For many people, the idea of encountering an insect and immediately crushing it is quite natural, before thinking about its origin and above all: the benefit that this little animal can represent to society.
Insects are part of the world’s most diverse group of animals, known as arthropods (the name meaning “arthropod foot”).
Today little more than a million species of insects are known, although specialists in National Geographic They indicated that there are still about 30 million species to be discovered in the world.
Insects have a pair of antennas that perform functions such as touch, smell, and sometimes hearing. Although they can be found almost everywhere on the planet, few species have survived life in the oceans. But, what is its role within each ecosystem? Why are they there?
Specialist in urban fauna and biological precursors and climate leader on the Climate Reality Project, Sebastian Jay Escalante, ranks insects as the basis of all ecosystems.
He says in an interview with Mexico sun.
Each type provides different ecosystem services that translate into economic, environmental, and cultural gains.
Among the most obvious ecosystem services they provide is pollination, a process that is vital to the reproduction of most species of flowering plants.
Bees are the main pollinating insect in natural, agricultural and urban areas. They are responsible for the production of apples, pears, walnuts, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, berries, and melons.
Thanks to their specialized pollen-collecting structure, bees have the ability to store it while foraging.
According to data from the Pennsylvania College of Agricultural Sciences, about 70 percent of crops rely on pollination by insects to produce fruit and seeds.
Says Renee Villanueva, founder of Historia Natvrae, a project based on the natural history of education and art.
Although most pollination is attributed to insects, there are also animals such as bats and hummingbirds that perform the same function.
Another service provided by insects is the shape and structure of the soil. They do this through the decomposition of organic matter, which contributes to the decomposition of minerals and compounds, providing nutrients to the soil and promoting the birth of new plants.
“It is easier for people to understand insects according to their functions, so they associate them with the services they provide, which are sometimes not visible,” Sebastian Gay added.
In addition, insects are part of the basic food group of some animals, giving circularity to the food chain of each ecosystem. Also, in various cultures they are the main dish for many people around the world.
In Mexico alone, insect consumption dates back to pre-colonial times, when maguey worms and escamoles were the most nutritious Mexican food.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognizes Mexico as a leader in the insect revolution, thanks to the more than 300 species of edible insects within its territory.
But they are in danger
Despite being part of one of the oldest groups on Earth, today’s insect populations are increasingly threatened.
Today, this group faces two problems: the growth of anti-insect culture and the fragmentation or destruction of their environment.
“In the twenty-first century, we live immersed in a culture that has set us against insects. Every day we are provided with flycatchers and insecticides that we use randomly without realizing that we affect the whole of nature,” Villanueva said.
The use and abuse of pesticides not only endangers insects, but also all of nature. For example, there are agricultural insecticides that are manufactured with the aim of controlling pests, but these agrochemicals can affect the growth of crops and can even remain in the food or plant for an extended period of time.
In addition, it can cause serious harm to people if it is constantly used indoors. Some of them include vomiting, skin spots, eye pain, and even allergic reactions.
On the other hand, ecosystem fragmentation and destruction is one of the biggest risks they face today.
One of the clearest examples of an insect in danger of extinction is the monarch butterfly, a species facing this problem as a result of the loss of its ecosystem.
The butterfly makes a 4,500 km journey from the eastern United States to southern Mexico, where due to environmental factors it is attracted to fir forests, especially in the Michoacan region and the state of Mexico.
This species is part of the culture and biodiversity of Mexico, even in some Michoacan municipalities, such as Angangueo, Tuxpan and Zitácuaro, local residents in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture organize Monarch Butterfly Cultural Festivals to promote the preservation of the state’s ecological reserve through workshops and talks.
However, the constant interference of humans in its ecosystem has caused its fragmentation, making it a species at risk of losing its habitat.
“A fragmented habitat is an ecosystem that has been divided into many small parts, meaning that the inhabitants of each part cannot interact with the other, so the populations are smaller and have less chance of surviving natural disasters, which are becoming more and more common,” Jay said.
According to a statistic conducted in 2019 by The Xerces Society, an environmental organization dedicated to preserving invertebrates, California, in the United States, has 29,000 samples, a number much lower than that obtained in 1980, which was 4.5 million samples.
Specialists note that although there are insects harmful to human health, they played this role due to the situations and conditions that humans themselves put in them.
“Insect conservation is a very important issue today because without them, all ecosystems would collapse and food chains would collapse almost immediately,” Jay said.
Measures to preserve
To achieve a healthy environment in which both insects and humans can thrive, various actions must be implemented that address the social and political spheres.
The first step is to create inclusive green areas for insects.
“Although the grasses that we see in the hills are beautiful, they are exclusive spaces for the local fauna, because they do not help with species diversity, so a green area with few insects is created,” said Sebastian Gay.
By implementing green spaces with a variety of plants and flowers, insects will be able to provide themselves with food and will do the work of pollination in that area and the surrounding areas. Other initiatives include green roofs and wilderness parks.
“Many think that people do not care about what they do not know, but it is not necessary to know everything to take care of it; not knowing something does not give you the right to kill or neglect it, great changes begin with individual action,” Villanueva noted.
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