Insect Profusion

The recent post on the wonders of one species of praying mantis triggered our contemplation of the wondrous profusion, complexity, and diversity of life on earth, not to mention our focus on just one class of animals—insecta. Eighteenth century Swedish zoologist Carolus Linnaeus proposed the system of naming individual species by assigning two latin names—one for its genus followed by one for its species. The Linnaean system has survived the test of time. Each time a child enthuses over a specimen of class insecta in the yard or garden, her discovery could be found in a descriptive book of insect species. For example, the praying mantis, tenodera sinensus, recently discovered by our grand-daughter, is but one of thousands of praying mantis species listed in the specialized literature.

In a flashback to our high school or college biology courses, we recall the taxonomic system of Linnaeus which still dominates with minor modifications among zoologists. The PCOFGS (phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) scheme is still used. Reading backward through the series from species to phylum, the biological groupings become smaller. Each smaller grouping includes specimens with major morphological traits in common. The top of the hierarchy, the phylum, has only 35 categories of animals. All living animals fit within these 35 categories including all named species. Included is the well known praying mantis tenodera sinensus, one of 1.3 million named species of 8.7 million existing species of animals. Many more than 1.3 million species have been described, but not yet named and many more species on earth are yet to be discovered.

One of the 35 phyla is arthropoda—animals with an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and jointed appendages. The largest group of arthropods is included in the class insecta. Specifically, insects are arthropods having six legs and a body divided into three parts. Insects are the most numerous species of animals in the world, making up about 950,000 of 1.3 million named species. Therefore, insects are far and away the most plentiful animal species on earth—about three times as many as all other species known on earth combined! As an aside, beetles are an order of insects comprising 40% of the entire class of insects. One in four of all named animal species on Earth is a beetle.

Earth dwellers may be unwise to shrink in horror from “bugs,” creatures so dubbed by many with less than respectful favor. What accounts for the plentiful distribution of just one class of animals—insects—in the economy of the created order? This is a question without a satisfactory answer for some people. Parents and teachers of young children may do well to foster appreciation of the world’s most plentiful species. Their existence is recognized as a mainstay in the balance of nature. Recently a friend inquired if any purpose was served by annoying, stinging insects on the beach during their vacation. The answer must be given in a broad context of reality.

Why did God create so many insects? The answer has both philosophical and scientific dimensions. In the balance of nature, insects provide various products for man’s use, pollinate our crops, exert natural control of many harmful pests, provide aesthetic beauty (who does not appreciate the beauty of the monarch butterfly with its unique life cycle?), and even food in some foreign countries. In the scheme of God’s creative genius, I enjoy thinking about a Creator with imagination, enjoying his work of creating and inspecting his creation. Considering the millions of insect species, God’s imagination and creativity are virtually limitless.

Finally, an analogy springs to mind. Many skeptics have poked fun at a God who created a septillion stars in hundreds of billions of galaxies in an unimaginably vast universe, yet apparently created life on only one planet in the cosmos. That seems wasteful, even unwise, they opine. Many astrophysicists have concluded that the vastness of the cosmos is a prerequisite for even one habitable planet such as Earth.

We wonder if Psalm 147:4 is literal, figurative, or metaphorical: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (NIV). If the Creator knows the names of all the stars, we may be sure he also knows the names of millions of unnamed insects. We may be certain the God of the Bible is infinitively wise and creative, even though some of our questions have no answer in human terms.

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