Insects are everywhere, in almost every habitat – even in the Arctic Circle scientists have found some types of bees and wasps, plant lice, butterflies and moths, mosquitoes, flies and caddisflies. Insects have different shape, colour, and size. Usually, not many people like them, as they can be annoying (who does not hate mosquitoes and flies?), or scaring (the sting of a wasp can be really painful, and dangerous if you are allergic to it; mosquitoes that transmit malaria kill hundreds of thousands of people every year). However, they are very fascinating living beings, and even if sometimes we wish that all the mosquitoes or spiders on earth would die out (spiders are one the most hated creatures, but they are not insect: their scientific name is arachnids!), insects are really important.
First of all: insects are invertebrate, but not all the invertebrate are insects. As I said, spiders are arachnids; earthworms are annelidis (ringed worms); snails are molluscs – so, they are more similar to an octopus rather than to an ant. A tip to distinguish an insect from another invertebrate is to count their legs: insects have six legs, whereas spiders have eight legs, snails and earthworms have no legs.
Among the activities planned for the Sommerferien Programm at my workplace, the CJD Ökohaus Markkleeberg (to find out more, read my other report here: https://www.youthreporter.eu/de/beitrag/experience-understand-and-protect-the-nature-discovering-an-oekohaus.17015/#.YTCJdJ0zbIU), there was also the construction of an insect hotel. I have to say that I have never heard of “insect hotel” before moving to Germany. Perhaps, in my home country is not that common to take care of insects – most people hate them and kill them.
What is an insect hotel (or insect house)? It is a structure generally made of wooden pallets, dry stonewalls or old tiles, clay, bamboo or branches, pinecones, and straw.
Why is it a good idea to build an insect hotel if you have a garden? Insects hotel attract beneficial insects by providing shelter and nesting sites. You can make small holes in the material to encourage insects to leave there their larvae to gestate. Beneficial insects might be solitary bees (those which do not produce honey) and wasps, that are important pollinators for edible plants and wildflowers. In this way, one can increase biodiversity in his/her own garden. In fact, the declining population of beneficial insects in human environments due to urbanisation, pollution and use of pesticides is a serious problem.
What would happen if the all insects on earth disappeared? Scientists have good reasons to think that it would be a catastrophe for the entire ecosystem. In fact, insects are extremely important for humans and other species. If all the annoying flies and mosquitoes suddenly vanished, all the animals that eat them (frogs, lizards, some kind of birds, rodents, etc.) would starve to death. The food chain would be interrupted. We would also die, since insects such as bees, wasps, butterflies, etc., through pollination of flowers and the dispersion of seeds make it possible for us to eat delicious fruit and vegetables.
However, not only pollinators are important. For instance, predator insects such as ladybugs, wasps, and dragonflies keep pest populations (insects or weeds) at a tolerable level – a ladybug eats thousands of aphids, helping us to keep the plants of our garden healthy!
Furthermore, there is a group of insects, called “scavengers”, which is extremely important to “clean” the earth and “recycle” organic waste. Indeed, beetles, cockroaches, and ants consume decaying organic matter, such as carcasses of animals, dungs, plants, rotting fruits and vegetables. Then, they return them to the soil as nutrient-rich matter. Thanks to scavengers, the soil is kept fertile. Without them, dead animals and plants would accumulate in our environment and it would be hard to get rid of them.
In a few words, insects play a fundamental role in keeping the balance of nature. Even if they might not be cute as a cat or a dog, they deserve to be respected as all the other living creatures, and protected from extinction. So, next time you are annoyed by a fly or a wasp, think twice before killing it.