Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs

Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs

Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs

Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs

Synopsis

The vast majority of people consider it a high priority to minimize the extent of their interaction with the insect world. Homes are sealed, sprayed, and kept meticulously clean so as to reduce the probability that they will be invaded by insects; similarly, bodies are bathed, hair is shampooed, and clothing regularly washed in order to eliminate any unwanted contact with six-legged life forms. In the overwhelmingly vast majority of daily conversations, insects are conspicuous in their absence; those rare conversations in which insects feature prominently are generally carried out in guarded tones, often with a touch of embarrassment.

Excerpt

The vast majority of people consider it a high priority to minimize the extent of their interaction with the insect world. Homes are sealed, sprayed, and kept meticulously clean so as to reduce the probability that they will be invaded by insects; similarly, bodies are bathed, hair is shampooed, and clothing regularly washed in order to eliminate any unwanted contact with six-legged life forms. In the overwhelmingly vast majority of daily conversations, insects are conspicuous in their absence; those rare conversations in which insects feature prominently are generally carried out in guarded tones, often with a touch of embarrassment. After all, no one likes to admit, even to close personal friends, to being stung, bitten, infested, invaded, or otherwise bested by the loathsome insects that manage to get around the safeguards.

It is indeed a laudable goal to try to distance oneself from the insect world, but it is, alas, an impossible one. There is no other life form on the planet whose lives are as inextricably bound up with our own as are members of the class Insecta. For one thing, they intrude by force of sheer number. Of the world's species, almost 80% of them are insects -- in other words, four out of every five creatures have six legs at some point during their lifetime. Over 800,000 species of insects are known to science, and there's really no way of telling how many there are altogether; estimates taking into account species yet undescribed and awaiting discovery range from 2 million to upwards of 30 million. As individuals, they collectively outweigh every other form of life on the planet as well. The total number of individual insects on earth at any given moment has been estimated at 10 quintillion (or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000), a number that's not that unreasonable considering that some termite colonies house over a million individuals and locust swarms can contain up to a billion individuals.

In view of these enormous numbers, it's not altogether surprising that insects can be found just about everywhere (and certainly everywhere that humans have staked a claim). There are insects that live in Antarctica, in cracks in the snow, and in hot springs in Yellowstone, in water where temperatures approach the boiling point. Insects live in horse intestines, where the acidity levels, even in a horse without heartburn, are comparable to vinegar; they live in pools of petroleum in oil fields, in jars of formaldehyde in morgues . . .

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