Insect Profusion

Published 10-2-2018

Earth inhabitants in the civilized world are intent on insulating themselves from the presence of insects. When we are successful, we consider ourselves to have succeeded in one of our most urgent comfort quests. Who wants to be plagued by insects intruding into our homes, at our picnics, or worse, making their presence felt at our social gatherings such as a formal outdoor wedding?

Of the 35 phyla (basic “body plans”) of animals recognized by bioscientists, five or six are the most frequently occurring and familiar life forms on Earth. We will discuss only three: chordates, mollusks, and arthropods. Chordates include vertebrates which comprise the most well-known classes in the phylum: Mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. There are about 50,000 vertebrate species (various sources publish different estimates). Named mollusk species belong to another phylum somewhat more numerous than the chordate phylum—upwards of 100,000 species catalogued. Familiar mollusk classes are octopus and squid (cephalopods), snails (gastropods), and clams and scallops (bivalves) to name a few.

Ranking far above chordates and mollusks, however, the arthropod phylum comprises the greatest number of catalogued species of any animal phylum on the planet. Insects, spiders, and crustaceans are familiar arthropods. 80% of arthropods are insects which include an incredible 1.2 million different catalogued species but several times that number await attribution.

84% of all animal species on our planet are arthropods, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica. Of all arthropods, 90% are insects and a particular order of insects—beetles—are the most numerous insect species on Earth. Beetles, therefore, comprise 25% of all animal life forms on earth by species count. Some may judge such statistics overwhelming. One writer posted his incredible estimate that 200 million insects exist for every human on Earth. Another guess concerning insect populations is even more breathtaking: 1.4 billion insects for every human on Earth. By combined weight insects may outweigh humans by a factor of 70. Of course, many scientists speculate with their personal estimates. Earth is not widely known as “the World of Insects,” but based on information above, that case may be justifiably made.

The diversity, physical beauty, design, and function of even our most common neighborhood insects is overwhelming. Are we able to overcome our common fear and revulsion of “bugs” and focus on the positive role of arthropods in class insecta? Do we appreciate the integral part played by insects in planetary ecology?

Ants are likely the most common insect on earth. Allowing for the difficulty of estimating actual numbers, we quote two different scientific estimates of their population—between 100 and 10,000 trillion in the 12,000 formally catalogued ant species and many not yet identified and catalogued. After allowing for their pesky presence at our picnics and the nuisance of ants in our kitchens, we yield to entomologists’ praise of manifold ant species’ benefits for humans. In Proverbs 6 even Solomon was impressed with their desirable work ethic in his famous appeal to “Consider the ant.” Here is our complete post by that title from September 2008:

“The Bible is not a textbook on science, but a well known passage in Proverbs 6:6-8 is an accurate and insightful commentary on the ant, probably the world’s most important insect. Without ants, some entire ecosystems would be destroyed. Many of the roughly 10,000 ant species already identified have unique behaviors which inspire awe, respect, and even admiration. The nuisance factor many associate with ants in everyday life might be more easily overlooked with a proper knowledge of what these creatures accomplish. We could make similar statements about many other insects.

“Young children possess an inherent fascination with insects. This summer, two arenas of excitement developed for our grandchildren just a few steps from our front door. Little black ants were excavating tunnels and piling mounds of soil particles next to the entrances of their underground passages and caverns. Hundreds of ants came and went, following their scent trails, intently engaged in their mysterious activities. Nearby, another scenario as we watched our “pet” digger wasp provisioning her underground home with anesthetized grasshoppers and katydids for her larvae-to-be. After the wasp lost its unease with our presence, we watched it efficiently drag its prey into the opening and alternately fill and re-excavate its tunnel, part of its many genetically programmed activities.

“Ants are astonishingly successful members of the insect world. In their complex society, all members of the colony remain frantically busy caring for their young, finding various foods, aerating, enriching, and draining the soil, and recycling dead material. Descriptions of the unusual habits of some specialized ant species would fill multiple chapters in an adventure book. One encyclopedic description claims ants enable us to ‘learn much about diligence, efficiency, sacrifice, loyalty, and teamwork.’

“What does Proverbs 6 tell us about the ant? Various Bible translations of this passage use the ant to counsel the sluggard, the slothful, and the lazy. Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation pleads ‘You lazy fool, look at the ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two. Nobody has to tell it what to do. All summer it stores up food; at harvest it stockpiles provisions.’ This is a scripture of enormous insight. Its lessons apply not only to the lazy, but they also serve as a model of successful living for everyone.”

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