You know those annoying insects and bugs, the ones you’re always squishing, squashing, slapping and swatting away? Have you ever wondered how important they are for the eco-system, and what would happen if they weren’t around?
No? Well, here’s something to consider. The Insect population is on the decline and scientists are saying we should be worried. They go on to explain that if humans disappeared tomorrow, it would have zero impact on the planet whatsoever.
But if insects were to become extinct, it would be absolutely catastrophic for the earth and mankind.
Causes & Consequences Of Insect Populations Plummeting
Of the millions of species of insects, most are useful. Those that aren’t useful are generally harmless, and the ones that are considered harmful even have a role to play.
Like the no see um from Mexico, for example. This teeny-tiny midge is known for its bites, but the very same pest also pollinates cacao beans. Yes, the very same cacao beans we use to make chocolate. Bet you’re ready to #saveNoSeeUms now, aren’t you?
But what about the millions of other insect species? What do they do? And do we really need them to do it? You betcha.
Let’s take a look at why we need insects in a little more detail, shall we?
Insects are Important for Pollination
Remember ‘The Bee Movie’? It taught us two things; that it was possible to develop a celebrity crush on a bee and that we need bees for pollination. Flies, butterflies, and mosquitoes are also responsible for pollinating as much as 90% of flora and fauna around the world.
Insects Play a Vital Role in the Food Chain
Insects are high up on the food chain, and depending on the species, they’re primary or secondary decomposers. This means they break down organic materials like plants and fruit, or dead and decaying material. Think of them as the planet’s hardest working janitors that we cannot do without.
They’re a source of food for other animals too. Hedgehogs, birds, and even fish feed on insects or insect larvae. And of course, in some countries, insects form an integral part of humans’ diets.
Insects are Responsible for the Removal of Waste
Certain species of insects are coprophagous and happily do a job, not many others will. What’s the job, you ask? Well, they help get rid of poop. Whether it’s feeding on it, living in it, or clearing it away, just think how unhygienic the world would be without them.
Insects Fertilize the Soil
Contrary to popular belief, earthworms are not the only insects that fertilize the soil. The majority that dig or burrow in the ground help turn the land, mixing and aerating it as they go. The nutrients from an insect’s droppings also help with the fertilization process.
Insects are Important for Chemical Production
Here’s a joke for you. Why didn’t the butterfly go to the ball? Because it was a mothball. Okay, we didn’t say it was a particularly good one, but it does bring us to the role insects have in the manufacturing of chemicals we find in industrial and household items we use every day.
Flour lice are used to make wax and Diaspididae, or insects with scales are a source of resin. And then there’s cochineal. Only 0.20″ in size, this itty, bitty little insect is vital in the manufacturing of items we use daily, including nail, floor, and shoe polish, hair spray, ink, and a whole lot more.
Insects are Necessary for Population Control
Even the most questionable insects are necessary for our eco-system. The deer tick, for example, does carry disease, but it helps keep the deer population under control. And if you’ve ever wondered whether we really need wasps, well, they help get rid of aphids, which in large numbers can destroy and damage crops.
Studies On Insect Population Declining
- About The Insect Survey Rothamsted Research
- Over 80% decline in butterflies since late 1800s Statistics Netherlands
- Worldwide insect declines: An important message, but interpret with caution
A Handy Guide to Helpful Insects Around the House
Yes, insects can be a nuisance, and some look nightmarishly scary, but the majority of creepy crawlies aren’t there to cause you any harm. They’re nature’s hardest working crew. So next time, when you’re tempted to squash a beetle or drown a bee, think about its role in your garden and the eco-system as a whole.
We’ve mentioned how earthworms help fertilize the soil, but we can’t stress this enough. The majority of gardens, if not all, need them. They create air pockets that aerate the soil and help roots take hold. Their poop also contains loads of essential nutrients and minerals plants need to grow. An abundance of earthworms is Mother Nature’s way of telling you your soil is healthy.
Want to know how you can encourage them to move in? Earthworms love organic matter, from manure piles to decaying wood and leaf piles, that’s where they thrive.
Soldier beetles and their larvae are great for gardens that have been overrun by pests. The larvae feed on slugs and snails, and adults eat, amongst other things, aphids as well as pollen. This means they’re as important as bees for pollination.
Planting catnip and hydrangea will attract these particular insects to your garden.
Damsel bugs are another one of nature’s best-kept secrets. Not only do they eat insects of all shapes and sizes, but they also don’t damage your garden in any way. They’re especially good for vegetable gardens, living off aphids, thrips, caterpillars, and leafhoppers.
Planting alfalfa is an excellent way to keep these natural pest control experts around.
Who would have thought we’d be singing the praises of a fly? But these flies, known as parasitoids, develop inside the body of their host, eventually killing them, and don’t damage your garden in any way.
Herbs like dill and parsley will help you attract Tachinidae to your garden.
Who doesn’t love a ladybug? These pretty little insects feed on mites, aphids, and mealybugs and are attracted to gardens with dill, fennel, yarrow, or angelica.
Unfortunately, the larvae of the ladybug can be a problem, but other insects within your garden’s eco-system will help keep their population under control.
Before you swot that busy bee buzzing around your head, you need to remind yourself of the vital role they have in nature.
They help pollinate flowers and fruit trees, and a lot of plants need cross-pollination to grow. Without bees, our eco-system would collapse. We rely on these industrious little critters for honey, wax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis. We even use their venom for medicinal purposes.
As long as you’ve got brightly colored flowers in your garden, you’ll have bees.
Like ticks, it’s hard to get your head around the purpose of wasps. They seem to be angrier versions of bees that sting without warning, but in reality, they do so much more than that.
Wasps are predators and eat a lot of insects that destroy gardens, including aphids, mites, and the larvae of invertebrates like slugs and caterpillars. But did you know that they’re also capable of pollination?
Wasps are attracted by flowering plants, so it shouldn’t be a struggle getting them to your garden.
While the name is deceiving, these insects don’t damage flowers and plants like plain old aphids. Instead, they’re called aphid midges because it’s what they eat. And boy, do they. These voracious feeders can eat as many as 65 aphids a day, taking population control to a whole new level.
If you want these midges in your garden, then you need pollen-producing plants.
Ah, the majestic mantis. Everyone loves a praying mantis, and they’re especially useful when it comes to getting rid of pests. These insects aren’t harmful to man, flora, or fauna. And they’re not dangerous, but they spell danger for a wide range of pesky insects, including moths, beetles, and caterpillars.
To get and keep praying mantises in your garden, you should plant dill, cosmos, and marigolds. They also like shrubs and tall grass, if you’re not big on flowers.
Minute Pirate Bugs
Argh! True to the nature of pirates, the minute pirate bug will pretty much eat every insect they see, including other pirate bugs. The only downside to them is that they don’t discriminate between good and bad bugs, so they could end up getting rid of the beneficial insects in your garden too.
Keen to get a few pirate bugs onboard? Then we suggest planting flowers and shrubs that have yellow flowers.
As their name suggests, these insects feed on mealybugs. Young larvae and adults especially enjoy mealybug eggs, while older larvae will eat them at any stage of their cycle. One mealybug larvae can eat up to 250 mealybugs, as well as aphids.
Mealybug destroyers inhabit gardens with sunflowers, dill, fennel, and goldenrods.
Have you noticed little red mites in your garden? Then you need lacewings. These ethereal looking insects will help you eliminate these pests in a short space of time, and also help get rid of aphids, mealybugs, thrips, caterpillars, and whiteflies.
If you’re in desperate need of pest control, you can actually buy lacewing larvae and pour them into aphid nests. Otherwise, plant sweet alyssum, cosmos, or angelica to attract them to your garden.
Another fairy-like insect is the dragonfly. Not only are they incredible to watch, dashing and darting through the sky, they’re also very effective at keeping your garden free of pests. Believe it or not, they’re able to eat their body weight worth of bugs every half hour.
Dragonflies love water, so if you’d like to have them in your garden, and who wouldn’t, make sure they have access to water, like a pond, birdbath, or even a pool.
Ground beetles are brilliant at beating bugs. One beetle can eat as many as 50 caterpillars, and they also help get rid of snails, slugs, and worms. Not even maggots are safe, and the best thing is they work at keeping your garden pest-free day and night.
White clover will attract ground beetles, as do most perennials.
Spined Soldier Bugs
It’s easy to mistake spined soldier bugs for stink bugs, but there’s one notable difference. The spined soldier bug looks almost prehistoric with its suit of armor, and unlike the common stink bug, they don’t destroy gardens. These insects are known for eating around 100 different types of insects, including the larvae of Colorado potato beetles and Mexican bean beetles, as well as caterpillars
If you’re looking for a natural and effective way to get rid of a wide range of pests, then you want to welcome spined soldier bugs with open arms.
So, as you can see, not all insects are bad. In fact, most are harmless and are an essential part of our eco-system, and our lives. Beneficial bugs help with pest and population control, pollinate flowers, fruit, and vegetables.
They’re a food source for millions of people around the world and provide us with by-products like honey, pollen, food coloring, and medicine. They’re recyclers, janitors, and safe-keepers of the planet. Without them, we are doomed.