Many children (and adults) will often ask "What good is an insect?" That's because most people connect insects with bad things, such as diseases, stings, and crop destruction. It's no wonder that the saying "The only good insect is a dead one" has become so popular.
What most people don't stop to think about are the positive ways that insects have influenced our society and the reasons they are so important to people and other living things. Below we've listed some of the "good" and "bad" points about insects. The list indicates the importance of insects in our lives and how they fit in with other living things. (it's important to realize that these are people's value systems. There is no "good" or "bad" in nature.)
Why People Like Insects
- Are very important plant pollinators, especially of fruit and other crop plants
- Provide honey, shellac, wax, and silk
- Help control other pests
- Provide food for many birds, fish, and other animals-including people
- Used to treat diseases in people
- Provide information on heredity, evolution, biochemistry, and other important science topics
- Are good indictors of water pollution
- Are fascinating to watch; inspiring to poets, writers, photographers, designers, and students
Why People Don't Like Insects
- Attack and eat important crops
- Spread plant diseases
- Transmit diseases to people and other animals
- Infest households as pests
- Bite, sting, stink, etc.
- Ruin stored crops, such as flour, popcorn, rice, etc.
- Require use of pesticides and other poisons, which often harm other animals
Here is some background information about controlling harmful insects by using Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
What 's IPM?
It used to be that when people had a problem with insects they pulled out the poisons. Chemical pesticides seemed like the fasted and easiest solution to a pest problem. But as many people have now learned, these chemicals can have terrible side effects on all living things. Some kill many kinds of animals besides the pests. Many seep into the soil, contaminating ground water supplies, lakes, rivers, and food sources. And many persist for a long time. Poisoning the environment for hundreds of years.
Today, entomologists are encouraging people to use another way to control pests called IPM. IPM used a variety of pest control techniques to create a more efficient and safe way to manage insect pests. Here are some of the IPM techniques entomologists are working with:
Natural predators: introducing the types of animals that will naturally gobble up pests. Ladybugs, praying mantis, garter snakes, toads, and purple martins are all examples of natural predators that eat insect pests.
Natural parasites: introducing bacteria, viruses, and insect parasites that will kill pests but won't harm other types of animals.
Mixed plantings: planting mixed stands of trees or crops instead of planting large areas with just one type of plant. Mixed stands are not as susceptible to insect damage.
Sterile insects: releasing thousands of sterile males or females of a pest species. When fertile insects mate with sterile partners, they don't produce offspring.
Habitat changes: changing the habitat to physically control many pest species. For example, by getting rid of all the old tires in your neighborhood you can cut down on the number of mosquitoes breeding in your area. (the tires fill up with rainwater, making perfect breeding sites for mosquitoes.)
Insect hormones: using insect hormones to prevent an insect from growing into a sexually mature adult. (Just as in people, hormones control growth and development in insects.)
Chemicals: using pesticides only as needed. In IPM, chemicals are just one small part of the whole plan. By studying an insect's life cycle, just the right amount of pesticide at just the right time can be used effectively. Less pesticide and careful application mean a more healthful environment and better pest control.
Timing: regulating planting and harvesting to avoid those times when insects are most abundant and damaging.
Mechanical: removing eggs, larvae, cocoons, and adults from plants by hand.
Pheromones: using natural and synthetic pheromones to attract or confuse insect pests.
Bug Bite Safety
When the summer sun comes out, so do the insects and bugs. Sometimes that means bug bites. Bug bites are usually just a painful annoyance, but in some people they can lead to a serious medical emergency. Follow these tips to reduce the chances that a child will be bitten or stung while in your care:
- Avoid areas where stinging and biting insects live and nest.
- When outdoors, always keep food covered.
- Regularly clean outdoor eating, barbecue and garbage areas.
- Mow lawns and tend to gardens with caution to avoid disturbing insect nests.
- Avoid perfumes, sprays and lotions, which attract insects.
- Avoid bright colors and bold or flowered print clothing
- Avoid public trash baskets.
When a child in your care is stung by an insect, such as a bee, wasp, hornet, yellow jacket or fire ant, it is important to monitor him or her carefully. Sometimes a child will have an extreme allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, also called anaphylactic b shock. Anyone can experience anaphylaxis - not just people with known allergies to insects bites.
The first symptoms may come on within a few seconds or up to two hours after the sting. Here is what to look for:Itching of the skin and raised rash (hives)
Flushing, swelling of the tissues of the lips, throat, tongue, hands and feet
Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, hoarseness
Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps
Loss of consciousness
Get immediate medical attention for the child who shows any of these symptoms. If you have a child in your care who has a known allergy to insect bites, ask the child's parents to provide clear written instructions from the child's doctor about how to handle an insect bite for this child. Sometimes medicine will be prescribed for a child. You will need to learn all the steps to take and how to use the medicine. Take the time to become prepared.
SourceEarly Childhood Linking System, Health Link Summer 1996
Harmful or Helpful?
Some insects help flowers become fruits and vegetables. Some insects make honey or spin silk. Others eat harmful insects or clean up decayed wood on the forest floor. Many are food for birds and other animals.
Insects can be harmful, too. Some spread diseases or destroy crops, trees, and plants. Many make life difficult for animals and humans.
Use the chart below to find out more about insects.
INSECT HARMFUL OR HELPFUL INTERESTING FACTS Carpenter Ant Can destroy wood Lives and works in groups Dragonfly Eats harmful insects Scoops insects in mid-air Honeybee Makes honey 50,000 bees in colony Praying Mantis Eats insect pests From China and Europe
- Name four ways insects are helpful.
- Name two ways insects are harmful.
- Which two insects eat pests?
- Which insect makes a sweet golden liquid? _________________________________
- Which insect can destroy houses? __________________________________________
SourceFrank Schaffer Publications, Inc. a reproducible page, FS-36047 What is an Insect?
Insects All Around Us
Did you know that of all the animals in the world, three-fourths are insects? About one million different species of insect has been described and several thousand new ones are found each year. With number like this, it is not surprising that insects play a big role in life on earth, any many are of great importance to humans.
For example, aquatic insects are an essential link in many food chains. They are food for fish, which in turn are eaten by humans. Bees and many other insects are important pollinators of food crops. Some insects also are important for recycling organic wastes-they help break down leaves, garbage, and other organic materials for making clothing. Ladybird beetles prey on many insect pests that damage important plants. Some insects are critical because of the harm the do. The clothes moth eats our wool clothing. The flour beetle is a serious pest of stored grains.
There is hardly a place on earth where you can not find insects. A powderpost beetle can survive for ten years in the leg of a table, getting water from the wood it consumes. Some members of the group of insects called rock crawlers carry out their life cycle on glaciers in the mountains of the western United States. The German and American cockroaches are close relatives of rock crawlers, yet they prefer an all together different existence, residing in houses in close association with humans. The Cynthia moth also prefers to live close to humans; it is found in railroad yards and abandoned warehouses in cities where its host plant, ailanthus, thrives. Some water striders even live on the surface of the ocean, often many miles from land. No matter where you live, play, or travel, you can observe insects and learn from them.
SourceCornell Cooperative Extension