We don’t often think about insects. They are small and fly around very fast. They can be annoying when they get in your food or fly by your face. Very often they are deadly. Malaria is carried by insects and kills many people each year.
Even though there are insects that kill people, there are lots of insects that help people, animals and the world and we should respect them.
WHAT IS AN INSECT?
Insects belong to a big group of animals called ‘arthropods.’ Arthropods all have a hard shell. They also have many legs attached to their body. All arthropods have at least 2 eyes. Insects can be split into lots of smaller groups of animals. These include bees, beetles, ants and flies.
Insects are very well suited to flying. They are light and have powerful wings. There are lots of different insects. Some can be very big like cockroaches. Some are very small such as ants. Nearly all insects live on land.
ARE INSECTS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ANIMAL ON EARTH?
Many Scientists think that insects are the most successful animals. Insects make up 80% of all animals on the planet! There are over 1 million different types (species) of insects. There is only 1 species of human however! Insects can be found in every environment you can think of. There are insects in ice, volcanoes, deserts, the deep sea and high mountains! In Antarctica where it is too cold for most animals to live, there is an insect called ‘Belgica Antarctica.’ It is the largest land animal on the continent. Amazingly the Belgica Antartica is able to freeze and not die.
IMPORTANCE TO THE ENVIRONMENT
It is important to respect these small insects. They are very important in keeping the place where you live healthy. It is important in rainforests and savannas for the plants to get eaten by insects. This keeps the carbon cycle going. In fact, ants in Africa eat more plant matter than all the herds of wildebeest do. This recycling of plant material is needed in improving plant growth. Insects break down old plants. This increases soil fertility. Then more, new crops are able to grow. This is great news for farmers!
IMPORTANCE TO OTHER ANIMALS
All animals rely on insects. Nearly all birds eat insects. If insects disappeared, so would all the birds. A single chick in a nest will eat 150 000 insects before it flies the nest. It is not just direct feeding that is important. Insects pollinate many plants. Pollination enables new plants to be produced. An incredible fact is that without bees to pollinate plants, ¼ of all life on earth would die! This is because bees pollinate many plants that animals eat. Without these plants, these animals would have no food. Then many animals that eat the plant-eating animals would also die.
IMPORTANCE TO PEOPLE
As humans, we also rely on insects. Lots of food that we eat is pollinated by insects. Potatoes, onions, fruits and vegetables all need insects to pollinate them and enable new plants to grow. Insects are also eaten by humans. They are very good for you and are just as good as eating other meat such as chicken or beef. Insects are also better for the environment as they require less food to eat. Cows need to eat a lot of grass. This grass needs to be grown and takes up a lot of space. This space could be used for towns instead. Cows also release bad chemicals into the atmosphere whereas insects do not.
Africa has many different types of insects. Big groups of insects such as locusts eat crops and can affect farmers growth. However there are many more good insects that help provide the food we eat. They also allow other animals to live. Insects are very special and Africa is home to many of these special creatures!