Insects come in many forms from buggy to beautiful
By Charlotte Corbeil
The Gulf fritillary butterfly is also known as the Passion butterfly.
An insect is a small animal that displays a segmented body (head, thorax and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, a pair of antennae and usually two pairs of wings (sometimes one pair or none, such as the wingless silverfish). The protective exoskeleton molts until final growth; breathing occurs through the sides.
Did you know? Not all insects are bugs, but all bugs are insects. The ratio of insects to humans is estimated at 200 million to one. Let us meet a few insects.
The common fruit fly is studied in genetics. Bee venom treats rheumatism. The assassin bug feeds on caterpillars and is used for biological control (insects eating pest insects), eliminating pesticides. Insects are involved in robotic research for planet exploration since they can maneuver capably on rough ground with six legs.
The silkworm is actually a moth caterpillar (larva). It encloses itself in a protective cocoon constructed from nearly a mile of a continuous strand of silk. Then it pupates and becomes a moth. Unfortunately, harvesters boil the cocoon inhabitant before maturity to retrieve silk. This process is deplored by many.
The cockroach (related to the termite) has higher radiation resistance than a human. Hardy, it can survive temporarily on glue from a postage stamp. Russian scientists sent a cockroach into space — the first terrestrial animal to give birth there. Obviously, this insect is appreciated more in space than in the kitchen.
Termites devastate more homes than fires, floods, and tornadoes. Some devour cellulose in wood and even consume drywall and plastic — moreover, they never sleep. The enormous queen’s mission is to lay millions of eggs in a possible lifetime of 50 years. Termite nests are huge with built-in “air conditioning” — outstanding research models for cooling buildings.
The locust, usually solitary, is the swarming phase of certain species of grasshoppers. It can eat its own weight in a day. In 1875, a colossal swarm of the now-extinct Rocky Mountain species covered 198,000 square miles in midwestern states.
The female mosquito (a fly) bites to obtain nutrients from blood to produce eggs. One in 1,000 females carries a disease fatal to humans, causing millions of deaths yearly. Except for being a meal for other creatures, the mosquito is worthless.
Other insects are harmful — stinging wasps, bees and ants. In addition, some insects are annoying, especially when they confuse the porch light for moonlight needed to navigate.
However, insects benefit humans, animals and the planet. These creatures contain vitamins, minerals and high protein. In developing countries, eating insects (entomophagy) is practiced. In addition, insects provide animal feed. Farming insects supposedly emit 10 times less greenhouse gas than farming livestock.
Most essential are bees and other insects for plant pollination. Furthermore, insects recycle dead plants and animals; therefore, their droppings maintain topsoil, enabling plants to grow. And some are culinary delights, like the fried grasshopper (chapulin) in Mexico.
Others give us joy as decorated live insect jewelry, such as the Mexican Maquech beetle, a Mayan tradition. Yet, the live “roach brooch” promoted ethical debate in this country. Indeed, a harmless pleasure prevails: behold the breathtaking butterfly!