The world as we know it cannot exist without insects. Without pollinators, there would be no apples, coffee, honey, tomatoes or blueberries. Many traditional medicines that have been used for a thousand years, such as that made from beetle larvae to treat cirrhosis, come from insects. The $100 billion chocolate market depends on tiny gnats. The world would be quieter – the birds and frogs that depend on insects for survival would gradually disappear. And the planet would be much less fragrant – most flowering plants depend on insects, while others get rid of animal droppings and rotting corpses. We risk losing much of our world’s wealth if insect populations continue to decline due to habitat loss from mass industrialization, widespread use of pesticides and global warming. planet.
“Begin to tear huge numbers of insects from the environment and the whole web of life, including humanity, is turned upside down,” writes Oliver Milman in The insect crisis: the fall of the small empires that rule the world (WW Norton, 2022). Milman traces the sobering recent history of insects and argues ardently for the steps we need to take now to address the crisis (ban all neonicotinoids, for starters). Along the way, he studies the entomological “obsessives” whose work has made possible everything we know about insects and the fate we’ve created for them. The Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, for example, houses at least 100 million insects in unused classrooms. In Denmark, ecologist Anders Pape Møller has spent the past 26 years using his windshield as a splattered Petri dish to track insect populations.
What would the world be like without the Dracula ant, which can snap its mandibles at 200 miles an hour? Or the woolly bear caterpillar, which produces its own antifreeze to protect itself from the cold? What if we lost these wonders and other invertebrates and all that they make possible? “We need them far more than they need us,” Milman writes. “The insect crisis is, from our own interested point of view, a human emergency.”