DECEMBER
1991

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-23-91

BUGS BAD RAP

"Bugs bad rap” could be a music critics negative review of the latest album of a rap group.  Or it could be a Disney release of a new Bugs bunny cartoon.  Bugs bad rap, however, is a commentary on the negative attitude that most people have toward insects.

In her Pulitzer prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard summarizes that attitude with these lines.  “Fish gotta swim and bird gotta fly; insects it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another.  I never ask why of a vulture or shark, but I ask why of almost every insect I see.  More than one insect --- the possibility of fertile reproduction --- is an assault on all human value, all hope of a reasonable god.”

Annie Dillard has hit the nail on the head.  Most of us view insects in the light of the bad things they do.  To be sure, insects bite and sting, they transmit diseases to plants and animals, they destroy our crops and possessions, and they generally make nuisances of themselves.

The insect world, in the view of humans at least, really lends credence to the old saying that “One bad apple can spoil a barrel of good ones!”  In fact less than one percent of all known insects are bad.  They are the ones that grab the headlines and spoil our patio barbecues.

As Paul Harvey might say, the other 99 percent of insects are “the rest of the story.”  Indeed insects provide valuable goods and services to humankind.  The most obvious are products like honey and silk.  But insects provide animals for research in medicine, genetics, population dynamics and basic biology.

In nature, insects are important to the grand scheme of things.  They provide food for many animals.  They pollinate the plants that provide many of our fruits and vegetables.  They take a leading role in recycling.  Insects are johnny-on-the-spot for road kills.  Otherwise roadsides would be littered with dead animals.  Termites turn dead wood into humus.  And the billions of tiny insects that inhabit the solid help keep it aerated and “alive.”

In the uneasy relationship between humans and insects, the insects provide far more benefits than harm.  Consequently, “bugs” do get a bad rap.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox