The Importance of Insects

Red Admiral butterfly © Catherine Leatherland

A study published this week has revealed that populations of insects across the World are in severe decline, with a third of species being endangered (at risk of going extinct). The study, which was carried out by scientists at the University of Sydney in Australia, highlights the need for us to act now to protect our insects. 

Insects are a very large group of animals – they outnumber mammals and birds by far, both in terms of number of species and individuals! Many people aren’t fond of them (which is a shame!) but insects are really really important. They are a key part of the food chain, providing energy to animals such as birds and mammals but also breaking down the nutrients from dead animals, plants and even poo – returning those nutrients to the soil. 

We might hate to admit it, but we also need insects. A very high proportion of the foods that we eat come from plant species that rely on insects to reproduce. This is because many insects are pollinators – they take pollen from a male plant to a female plant, allowing the plant to produce seeds, which then grow into new plants! Without the pollinators, that wouldn’t happen – we would lose those plants and therefore the food made from them. 

The main cause of these declines is stated to be the intensification of agriculture  – the way in which we grow crops. This has become less wildlife friendly over the years, with things like hedgerows removed to make more space and increased use of insecticides (poisons that kill insects). When this way of farming is happening on a large scale, across the World, it can have these big negative effects. 

We need to act now to protect insects. One way you can do this directly, is to learn a bit about them and tell everyone how important they are. A great place to start is the Buglife website. Another good one is the Amateur Entomologist Society.

And remember – even if you find them a bit scary at first, be kind to insects!