Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University


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Notable quotes sometimes involve insects

Insects are numerous creatures. So it is not surprising that many a person has invoked some six-legged creature to make or embellish a point. Some such quotes are often repeated because the quotes are good or funny, or because the quote is ascribed to a famous person. Here are some quotations that manage to squeeze in an insect or two.

It is not surprising that some oft-used quotes are from biologists or naturalists. Henry David Thoreau wrote the following in 1893: "Is disease the rule of existence? There is not a lily pad floating on the river but has been riddled by insects…If misery loves company, misery has company enough. Now, at midsummer, find me a perfect leaf or fruit." Thoreau also wrote: "Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain."

Many ecologists consider insects and humans to be the chief competitors for the earth's resources. Noted ecologist W. C. Allee writes: "The mortal enemies of man are not his fellows of another continent or race…they are insects that carry…germs as well as working notable direct injury. This is not the age of man, however great is superiority in size and intelligence; it is literally the age of insects."

Edward O. Wilson, the world-famous ant man of Harvard University, speculates: "If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed then thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos."

Jacques Cousteau worried about what humans were doing to the ecosystem: "If we go on the way we have, the fault is our greed and if we are not willing to change, we will disappear from the face of the globe to be replaced by the insect."

Tama Janowitz puts the earthly competition between insects and humans this way: "Long after the bomb falls and you and your good deeds are gone, cockroaches, will still be here, prowling the streets like armored cars."

Insects are sometimes used to add a bit of levity. Consider the following.

"Life is hard for insects. And don't think mice are having any fun either." -- Woody Allen

"No, no, I'd rather not. I have an agreement with the houseflies. The flies don't practice law and I don't walk on the ceiling." -- Groucho Marx

"Nothing seems to please a fly so much as to be taken for a currant; and if it can be baked in a cake and palmed off on the unwary, it dies happy." -- Mark Twain

"A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still." -- Samuel Johnson

"Cockroaches really put my 'all creatures great and small' creed to the test." -- Astrid Aluada

"Two-legged creatures we are supposed to love as we love ourselves. The four-legged, also, can come to seem pretty important. But six legs are too many from the human standpoint." -- Joseph W. Krutch

Or how about a little philosophy based on the biology of our insect competitors?

"The butterfly's attractiveness derives not only from colors and symmetry: deeper motives contribute to it. We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or it they flew straight and briskly like bees, or it they stung, or over all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis: the latter assumes in our eyes the value of a badly decoded message, a symbol, a sign." -- Primo Levi

"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." -- Bradley Millar

"We are closer to the ants than to butterflies. Very few people can endure much leisure." -- Gerald Brenan

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." -- Buckminster Fuller

"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." -- Rabindranath Tagore

"Our treasure lies in the beehives of our knowledge. We are perpetually on our way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind. The only thing that lies close to our heart is the desire to bring something home to the hive."

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Insects and insect biology provide all kinds of ammunition for quotations that speak to ecology, philosophy of life or just provide a laugh or two. Who said insects were good for nothing?



Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox