Are insects dying out?
It appears so. A report published in the journal Biological Conservation last year warned that more than 40 per cent of the world’s insect species are threatened with extinction over the next few decades. Moths and butterflies, dung beetles, ants and bees were highlighted as being especially vulnerable.
Entomologists have so far named around one million insect species, but there are an estimated five million insect species on the planet, and many of these could become extinct before being recorded by science. Habitat loss, pesticides, disease, and climate change are all thought to be to blame for insects’ demise.
Why should we be worried?
For starters, they play a crucial role in the food chain. Insects are eaten by most birds, which collectively consume as many as 500 million tonnes of creepy-crawlies every year.
Insects also pollinate our flowers and crops, providing unpaid labour that’s estimated to be worth between $235bn (£180bn approx) and $577bn (£443bn approx). Bees play the major role, but other insects make up 40 per cent of visits to crop flowers. Flies, for example, are crucial pollinators of the cocoa tree.
Insects are also useful at the other end of the food chain. They break down huge quantities of animal poo and dead animals, recycling nutrients back into the ground.
What can we do about it?
Farmers can think more about the insects that pollinate their crops. For example, the cocoa tree – the seeds of which give us chocolate – is pollinated by around 15 species of midge (tiny flies). In order to increase cocoa yields, farmers often remove other trees from the area, but this removes the shade that midges prefer, and the decomposing leaf litter that their larvae need to grow.
On an individual level, we can all protect our own little bit of greenery. Even if you have a small garden or a window box, encourage insects by planting native plants and wildflowers, and remember: nature likes things messy and undisturbed. If you need an excuse not to mow the lawn, this is one!
Marnie Chesterton is the presenter of Can I save the insects? – an episode of CrowdScience.