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The Amazing World of Insects

A brief look at just a few of these amazing creatures might well convince you that insects deserve your respect.

Masters of Flight, Marvels of Sight

Many insects are masters of flight. For example, mosquitoes can fly upside down. Some can even fly through the rain without getting wet, actually dodging the raindrops! Some tropical wasps and bees buzz around at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Hover flies can beat their wings more than a thousand times per second—much faster than hummingbirds. Dragonflies can fly backward.

If you have ever tried to swat a fly, you know that these insects have exceptionally keen eyesight, which is coupled with a reflex that is ten times quicker than ours. The fly has a compound eye, containing thousands of six-sided lenses, each of which works independently.

Some insects can perceive ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans. When seen in ultraviolet light, a female has attractive patterns that are ideal for grabbing the attention of courting males.

The eyes of many insects serve as a compass. Bees and wasps, for instance, can detect the plane of polarized light, enabling them to locate the sun’s position in the sky—even when it is hidden by clouds. Thanks to this ability, these insects can forage far from their nests and still find their way home unerringly.


Love Is in the Air

In the insect world, sounds and aromas are often used to find a mate. Female emperor moths find a suitor by emitting a scent that is so potent that a male can home in on its source from nearly seven miles away. His sensitive antennas can detect a single molecule of the scent.

Crickets, grasshoppers, and cicadas prefer to make themselves heard. A large group of courting cicadas can create a din that is louder than a pneumatic drill! In contrast, some females make no sound at all.


Waking Up and Warming Up

For humans who live in a cool climate, keeping warm is important. The same is true for cold-blooded insects. The sun is their ally, and they make the most of it.

Flies and beetles are attracted to flowers or leaves that bathe in the warmth of the sun during the early morning hours. Some beetles frequent Australian water lilies that act like botanical stoves, heating up their blossoms as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the surrounding temperature. Butterflies have a built-in heating system. When they need to warm up, they open their wings, which serve as efficient solar panels, and incline them toward the sun.


You Name It, Insects Do It!

Some moths, seek life-giving salt and moisture by sucking the tears of buffalo. Other insects, equipped with a potent antifreeze, inhabit freezing mountaintops and spend their lives scavenging bugs that have succumbed to the cold.

A termite mound can stand 25 feet tall. These marvels of construction come with sophisticated air-conditioning and underground fungus gardens. Even more amazing, the termites that build these towering pyramids are blind!


Why We Need Insects

About 30% of the foods we eat depend on pollination by bees, most of which are wild bees. Insects also keep the earth clean by means of an efficient recycling system, as they reprocess dead plants and animals. Thus, the soil is enriched, and nutrients that are liberated can make things grow.

Friends or Foes?

Some insects eat crops and carry disease. But only about 1 percent of the world’s insects are considered pests, and many of these do more damage because of the way man himself has altered the environment.

Man can naturally control insect pests that attack crops, either by rotating crops or by introducing or conserving natural predators. Lowly ladybugs and lacewings effectively control plagues of aphids. And in Southeast Asia, public-health workers discovered that a couple of dragonfly larvae could keep a water-storage container free of mosquito larvae.

Insects are an integral part of the natural world on which we depend, “we cannot survive without them.”

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