Insects: Creatures that are Easy
Our world is caught up in survey mania. You know, nine of 10 doctors
surveyed prefer brand X for headaches! Or six of 10 likely voters think
that issue A is important. We even have surveys regarding our attitude
about insects. And the results are clear. Most of us don't like insects.
In fact, seven out of 10 living, breathing humans say they either hate
insects or are apprehensive about them!
OK, I have to admit, I'm not surprised. I even think that the percentage
of people who don't like insects might even be a bit low. Most people
I encounter can be clearly classified as insect haters.
Common folks that we meet every day at school and the grocery store aren't
the only people who don't list insects as their favorite animals. Writer
Annie Dillard says, "I ask why of almost every insect I see."
Poet Ogden Nash wrote, "God in his wisdom made the fly, and then
forgot to tell us why." Karl Shapiro started his poem "The Fly"
with the line, "Oh hideous little bat, the size of snot." You
really don't need the rest of the poem to conclude that Shapiro didn't
think much of flies.
It is easy to understand why insects are hated by most of humankind.
You see, insects are clearly the chief competitors of humans for the resources
of the earth. And, try as we might, we still haven't gotten the upper
hand on our six-legged competitors. And we probably won't.
In his book, "The Insect Menace," published in 1931, entomologist
L. O. Howard wrote the following passage. "I have a fanciful thought.
I can imagine Nature sitting back with a complacent smile and saying to
herself: Now I am going to witness an interesting spectacle. This last
thing that I have produced (he calls himself man) I have given the chance
to control most things on earth. Let us see what he will do with my especial
pets, the insects, which I have developed and perfected for so many ages.
The humans are going to have a hard struggle to hold their own, and I
am not sure they are going to win."
Insects, it seems, help themselves to almost anything they want. They
chew on our garden plants. They destroy our crops. They gnaw holes in
our clothing, and eat up our wooden houses. Insects feed on and annoy
our animals. Even worse, they attack us!
It is this direct assault that turns most of us into insect haters. Many
insects bite us in order to obtain a blood meal. A biting insect generally
injects saliva into its victim. Insect saliva causes swelling and itching,
because the foreign proteins trigger a defensive reaction by our antibodies.
Some insects can cause skin irritation even though they don't bite. Blister
beetles get their name because their hemolymph contains a severe irritant
called cantharidin. Several species of insects have caterpillars with
hairs attached to one -celled poison glands. When such a hair touches
skin, a rash will develop.
Other insects sting directly. Most people know about stinging bees, wasps
and ants. The sting of these insects is designed to keep us away from
their nests. The strategy works really well, since anyone who has been
stung is normally not interested a repeat performance.
The worst thing that insects do is carry pathogens, or germs if you prefer.
Some flies pick up the germs on their feet, and they stomp around in our
food. That feared malady of travelers, dysentery is one such disease.
Other insects transmit the disease organisms through their bite. Mosquitoes
are the worst culprits in this area. These blood-sucking insects are responsible
for such diseases as malaria, yellow fever, West Nile, and St. Louis encephalitis.
Mosquitoes aren't the only insects guilty of ferrying pathogens around.
Fleas carry plague, and lice transmit typhus. The kissing bug carries
Chagas' disease. Sleeping sickness is transmitted by the tsetse fly. These
insect-carried diseases are estimated to have killed more people than
all of our human wars put together.
So maybe it is correct for most of us to hate insects. However, for a
few of us, we just have to admire the insects. After all, they were here
before us and just might be here long after we're gone!