Easy To Be an Insect
Kermit the Frog is famous for pointing out to us
all that it isn't easy to be green. But in some ways, being a green frog
is easy compared to being a green insect. Or, for that matter, being any
In the great scheme of nature, insects live perilous
lives. Insects exhibit what biologists call an "r" strategy for survival
of the species. That means that they produce many offspring so that a
few survive to continue the species. Some entomologists estimate that
only about 1 percent of all insects hatched live to produce eggs.
But that is enough! Every year, during the summer
months we seem to be inundated with the buzzing, crawling, chomping creatures
known as insects.
So what happens to the rest of the insect bunch?
Many provide food for other animals. Nature is filled with animals that
like to make meals of insects. Bats are almost entirely insect feeders.
That is what these hairy, flying machines are up to as they zoom around
the nighttime skies. They are pursuing night-flying insects, including
those pesky mosquitoes, which are known to make our lives miserable.
Frogs and toads also feed on insects. Knowledgeable
gardeners love to have these amphibians take up residence among the vegetables,
flowers and herbs. Frogs and toads have long, sticky tongues--very functional
devices for use in capturing the insects destined to be their next meal.
Some snakes also are insect eaters. However, many
gardeners don't like snakes any better than they like insects. So while
that little harmless garter snake might be worth its weight in gold in
insects consumed, most folks would just as soon that it didn't live under
the tomato plant!
All kinds of birds are insect eaters. Purple martins,
barn swallows and chimney swifts all feed on flying insects. These birds,
like bats, capture their insect prey while on the wing. While we would
like to think that purple martins eat a lot of mosquitoes, it really isn't
true. Mosquitoes are night fliers and martins are day fliers, so the two
are not active at the same times. Martins certainly will consume any mosquitoes
that are unfortunate enough to be on the wing during the twilight hours.
The height of flight of barn swallows has been
said to be linked to the potential for rain. The adage, "swallows fly
low before a rain," is related to the small insects that make up a swallow's
diet. These small insects are forced to fly nearer to the ground when
the barometric pressure is high, as is the case when weather fronts approach
Bluebirds are also good insect eaters. So, those
homeowners who place bluebird-nesting boxes on their property are also
aiding in insect control in the area. It does a gardener's heart good
to see mama or papa bluebird headed back to the nest with a beak full
Many insects also die because they don't have food.
They either run out of food or can't find the food they need. Food is
sometimes more of a problem for insects than it might appear to humans.
Some insects are kind of finicky eaters. This was even recognized by the
writer Lewis Carroll. In "Alice in Wonderland," Alice is talking to a
gnat about the food habits of insects.
"'And what does it live on?'
'Weak tea with cream in it.'
A new difficulty came into Alice's head.
'Supposing it couldn't find any?' she asked.
'Then it would die of course.'
'But that must happen very often,' Alice remarked
'It always happens,' said the Gnat."
Finding food is a problem for insects and just
adds to a long list of difficulties that nature's most-successful organisms
must overcome during their lifetime. However, it's unlikely that we humans
will care. After all, most of us really don't like most insects, and there
always seem to be plenty of the six-legged creatures around to "bug" us!