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They’re little, they’re fast, sometimes they can be downright pesky. Now I’m not talking about your kids, I’m talking about insects. We know we should study them as part of our nature study and our science curriculum, but why should we study insects? What is it about insects that can get us excited and want to study more about them? Today we want to talk about why we study insects, and joining me is my friend Karen Smith.
Sonya: Karen, if we talk about insects, I know you’re the expert to go to to find out why on Earth should we study them. I often refer to things that we study in nature as “nature friends,” and I remember recently, one mom called me out on that. She was like, “A mosquito is not a nature friend.”
Karen: Well, yes it is.
Sonya: And that’s why we’re here today. Why would you call it a friend? What is it about insects that we need to keep in mind?
Karen: Well, just briefly, in the case of a mosquito, you may not like them, but they are very necessary for your livelihood. Yes, we don’t like it when they bite us, but they are an essential part of the food chain in the ecosystem. Apart from that, the biggest reason that we should study insects is because they’re part of God’s creation.
Sonya: That’s true. There was a reason that He made them.
Karen: Many reasons, but yes. Anything that’s a part of God’s creation we should study at some point in our lives. We should get to know the things that God created. He created these things for our benefit.
Sonya: And we learn more about Him by looking at what He designed and made. Just like you can learn about a person by looking at what kind of art he produces or what kind of food she cooks or what kind of handicraft he does. It tells you about that person.
Karen: Yes, about that person, what he likes, what he doesn’t like.
Sonya: How he thinks.
Karen: That sort of a thing, yes. So yes, they’re part of creation, so we should study them just from that, but if you need more reasons, I have more.
Sonya: Give us more. That’s a good one to start with, but give us more.
Karen: Insects are very interesting. I know most people go, “Ew a bug, why do we want that? Let’s kill it.”
Sonya: They crawl around, they bite you, and you’re done.
Karen: But there is such a wide variety of insects. There is everything from ants to beetles to butterflies to bees to various hopping insects, and that only scratches the surface of what is out there. There is such a great variety, so get to know some of those varieties, or as many as you can.
Sonya: You’re not going to run out of things to study.
Karen: You are not going to run out of things to study. There are more insects than any other creature on earth. And I don’t just mean there-are-a-million-mosquitoes-living-in-your-backyard type thing, there are more species of insects than any other creature on Earth. Scientists have named and discovered about one million species of insects.
Karen: A conservative estimate of four million are left undiscovered, so you have the opportunity, by studying insects, to maybe discover one that has not been discovered before. So isn’t that a good reason?
Sonya: That’s a good reason.
Karen: They are also easy to find and easy to study. They live virtually everywhere on the earth, from the poles, to the tropics, and everywhere in between. The only place that they have not found any insects yet, living, would be the oceans.
Sonya: Oh, interesting.
Karen: So anywhere you live, there are insects to study. So no excuses. Another reason to study insects is that we cannot live without them.
Sonya: Now that’s interesting, tell me more about that.
Karen: I briefly mentioned that the mosquitoes are part of the food chain and part of the whole ecosystem. If you eliminated mosquitoes, we’d be in trouble. Insects pollinate our plants. They are what help us to have fruits and vegetables for us to eat. They also break down waste, so we do not live in a garbage dump because of insects. Many insects take care of things that are dead and other wastes that are produced by other animals. So those are good reasons. We can’t live without them. It’s a good thing to study them.
Sonya: That’s true. Nice. What else?
Karen: There are different ways that they benefit humans. We talked about pollination, so they do that, and break down waste and dead things. Some insects actually aerate our soil for us. Ants make tunnels, so they aerate the soil. They are a food source. In some parts of the world, they do eat insects. As Americans, we’re a bit put off by that. Some might think it’s a novelty to have a lollipop with some insect in it. They might think that that’s a great thing, kind of fun, but in other parts of the world, they are a food source for them. That’s what they live on.
Sonya: I’ve been reading about the rise of eating crickets. And I mean, it’s nothing new, if you think back, John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey.
Karen: Yes. I have a friend who has been in a country in Africa, and they eat caterpillars there.
Sonya: So there are places where they are food source, yeah.
Karen: Some insects are used to control other insects that are pests to our plants.
Sonya: You do this in your garden, don’t you?
Karen: Well I plant things, or I let things grow, that will draw the beneficial insects that will help take care of the ones that are pests in my garden, yes. They don’t take care of all of them, but they do help. So yes, you want those insects to come and help with that. Farmers want them to help control pests. It’s a useful thing for us. That’s how we benefit from them. They’re also a resource for different products that we use. Silk is something we get from insects.
Sonya: That’s true. Silkworms.
Karen: Floor polish comes from insects. Ink can come from insects. Varnish can come from insects. Beeswax. Most people are familiar with beeswax. So those are things that we get from insects. Insects provide us with those. This is interesting? This is this why we should study them?
Sonya: Yeah, there are a lot of reasons here I hadn’t thought about before.
Karen: Insects can be used to help solve crimes. Different insects. So if you have a murder, I don’t want to gross anybody out, but if there’s a murder, different insects will come at different times, so they can predict how long a body has been decomposing based upon what insects are found there.
Sonya: So it’s a part of forensics.
Karen: Yes. So it can help solve crimes in that way. We have actually made products based upon what we see insects doing in nature. An example would be antifreeze. Antifreeze was invented because some insects use a type of antifreeze to keep themselves from freezing in the wintertime.
Sonya: Really? Wow.
Karen: Another thing: Velcro.
Sonya: Okay, I’m not connecting Velcro to insects.
Karen: Their legs have it; the person who invented Velcro studied insects and noticed how things worked. Burrs are another thing from nature that’s also connected to Velcro.
Sonya: But also insects’ legs.
Karen: Yes, and the way they worked. And chainsaws, of all things; how insects can chew through things and how their jaws work was instrumental in inventing chainsaws. One other thing. Genetic studies. Scientists often will use fruit flies to study genetics in humans. I recently read about a study where they’re studying fruit flies to see what characteristics a father passes on to his children. So they’re studying the fruit flies to learn how humans pass different characteristics on to their children through the father. Those are more reasons to study insects. It’s a fascinating world. They are fascinating creatures. You don’t have to get up close and personal. You can study them from a distance if you want, especially the scarier ones.
Sonya: Well I know we talked previously about when your child is afraid of a certain insect or nature friend, or if you are, and how to help with that. Not force it, but how to help, because sometimes insects, especially as I mentioned, they’re fast and they’re little.
Karen: And some can bite or sting. And that can be scary. But they’re still fascinating creatures to study.
Sonya: And it seems like it all comes back around to your first reason. I mean all these things you talked about are showing God’s design and handiwork, and how He created insects to operate in this world. It all ties back to it’s His creation.
Karen: Yes. I have a quote I’d like to read. This, I actually found at the beginning of a chapter in a book on insects, and this is from James Rennie, who wrote Insect Architecture, published in 1857. He stated, “It can never be too strongly impressed upon a mind anxious for the acquisition of knowledge, that the commonest things by which we are surrounded are deserving of minute and careful attention.”
Sonya: The commonest things.
Karen: The commonest things are insects. They’re all around us, found everywhere except the oceans. They’re easy to study and I love how he says “it cannot be too strongly impressed upon the mind anxious for the acquisition of knowledge.”
Sonya: Yes, and too often if our minds, as parents, are not anxious to learn more about insects, it’s going to be hard to get our kids interested in it as well.
Karen: Yes. If we don’t care, our children are not going to care, or most likely are not going to. Sometimes you have a child who cares about things that you don’t, and that’s good, because they’re individuals, but many times, what we’re interested in our children will take an interest in, too, because they see us learning more about those things.
Sonya: Fascinating ideas, and I’m sure you have included a lot of great living books about insects in your science living book list that’s on our website. And many of those are written into the science courses that you have written as well. They are a good opportunity to supplement nature study and learn about some of these aspects that you mentioned that you can’t necessarily know just by observing the insects. Those would be great resources. Thanks so much.