Since first making their appearance 400 million years ago, insects have become one of the earth’s great success stories.
There are 900,000 different kinds of them. And so many individual insects that for every one of us (human beings), there are 200 million of them. And for every pound of us (if you were to weigh us all on a scale) there are about 300 pounds of insects.
There are so many insects in fact, about 10 quintillion of them in all (the number looks like this: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000), that our minds have trouble grasping the magnitude of a population so incredibly large.
According to recent research however, the seemingly limitless number of bugs appears to be declining. Which means that insects may be in trouble.
What Research Tells Us
For decades, studies have noted isolated declines in insect populations, while for years, drivers have noticed fewer and fewer unlucky bugs smacking across their car windshields.
But when a 2017 German study reported widespread insect losses across not just a single species, but many – the press and public became alarmed. Since then, other studies have reported similar troubling results. Not only in Germany, but across the world.
And losses appear to be continuing, with some scientists predicting a loss of up to 40% of the earth’s insects over the coming decades. Whether that prediction proves to be correct or not, insects are a crucial part of the planet’s ecosystem, and we depend on what they do.
Insects pollinate many fruits, flowers, and vegetables, which would otherwise vanish without them. Some eat weeds that would otherwise choke out useful plants. Some eat other, dangerous insects that would otherwise reproduce unchecked. And many break down and dispose of wastes that would otherwise choke and poison the environment. Insects are also an important food source to many birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, including many people around the world who eat them.
What’s causing the decline? No one knows for sure. But scientists believe a few things may be to blame, beginning with the overuse and misuse of pesticides. Pesticides, especially from intensive farming, kill not only pests, but beneficial insects as well. And herbicides sometimes destroy the habitats on which many insects depend.
Add to that the fact that many uncultivated lands around the world that had once been full of insects, are being converted to farming lands, destroying more habitats and exposing insects nearby to new and higher concentrations of pesticides.
What You Can Do
What can you do to help insects? A lot, actually:
- Garden Wisely. If you have a garden, reduce or eliminate the pesticides you’re using now, and if you do use pesticides, take care to keep sprays from being carried away in the air. When you buy plants for your garden or lawn, look for ones that are grown locally. Plants grown elsewhere, especially abroad, can carry non-native diseases and dangerous insects harmful to bugs living around your home right now.
- Let Your Yard Grow a Little. Let the grass in your back or front yard grow a little longer. And don’t be so quick to pull up every little weed. A more natural yard creates a better habitat for bugs, and also helps animals like birds that feed on them.
- Buy Local. Buy local fruits and vegetables when you can. The small farms and hobby farmers near you probably aren’t encroaching on new habitats anytime soon. By buying locally, you also reduce the need for food trucked in across great distances, reducing your family’s carbon footprint and reducing your individual impact on climate change.
- Create New Habitats For Bugs. If you have outdoor space or know of outdoor space you can use, plant wildflowers or just let them grow on their own. Even a small window box or patio tub can create a habitat for insects, including endangered pollinators. While a backyard or community plot can nurture thousands of them.
- Support Organizations That Help Bugs. Join and support organizations that are working to help insects. Organizations like the Xerxes Society and Buglife work to make the public aware of the issue, which can lead to increased research funding, changes in governmental policies, and better coordinated local programs.