Despite our conviction that we are the top species on this tiny planet we inhabit, it is clear that we are one of a few that are lucky enough to have been given grace to live here by the true rulers of the Earth – Insects.
Looking at the myriad of life forms inhabiting our tiny rock, it becomes clear just how insignificant we are. The order of insects comprises of potentially more than 5 million different species (many of which are still to be described), which make up over 20% of all the named life forms on the planet. They have the bulk to over power anything they so choose, far outweighing any other terrestrial inhabitants when it comes to biomass. At any one time there are thought to be 10 quintillion insects buzzing around the planet (that’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!), approximately 200 million insects for every human being. We are quite simply, outnumbered.
Insects are quite effective at arranging themselves into complex social structures, capable of unified action towards one common goal. Ants, bees, termites and wasps are all eusocial animals which are happy taking on collective responsibility for the raising of the young, collecting of food and constructing homes, all set within a distinct social class system.
Despite their diminutive size, insects are capable of complex communication. From the waggle dance of the bee, telling the hive where to find food, to the noisy stridulation of crickets, signifying their willingness to mate. It is thought some solitary parasitic wasps may be able to count, knowing exactly how many eggs to lay into each host for the best chances of success for their young. Insects have even developed the power of counter-intelligence, with some moths able to mimic the noises produced by bat’s attempts at echolocation, effectively ‘jamming’ their radar.
It has been demonstrated that some insects have the capacity to feel emotions. When both fruit flies and bees were subjected to a stimulus similar to a predator attack , they were shown to be less inclined to feed afterwards than groups that had not been tormented. The groups subjected to the ‘attacks’ even showed altered levels of neurotransmitter chemicals linked to emotions, such as serotonin and dopamine.
In the UK, there are thought to be around 20,000 different species of insect. This is too many for most of us to be able to identify every single one, so we must learn to distinguish between those we want, and those we don’t. The ability to tell a hover fly (a voracious predator of aphids) from a wasp (a voracious predator of picnics) is all important, but we must not forget that they all have a role to play. Even the pesky wasp acts as a pollinator for many plants, and plays its part by ‘recycling’ dead wood from the garden.
It is important to realise that we are gardening as much for their benefit, as ours. We need to provide a year round supply of nectar for the bumblebees, which can still be active during a mild winter. We need to provide places for the solitary bees to nest, so they are ready and willing to pollinate our fruit trees in the spring. We need to provide undisturbed areas of rotting wood for the larvae of the beetles that patrol our borders. We also need to be careful when using treatments in the garden, asking if this method targets the problem, or if it will affect a much wider section of our insect population, and if some other technique might be a more targeted method of control.
Every leaf I turn over in the garden seems to be home to something, whether it’s a beetle, aphid or even something more exciting, like a butterfly. It is clear that in this environment I am most definitely in the minority. However, I for one, am willing to accept my insect overlords, just as long as they treat me with benevolence, and stop biting!