News and Notes

The Insect Apocalypse Is Here

“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” —E.O. Wilson

Sune Boye Riis was on a bike ride with his youngest son, enjoying the sun slanting over the fields and woodlands near their home north of Copenhagen, when it suddenly occurred to him that something about the experience was amiss. Specifically, something was missing.

It was summer. He was out in the country, moving fast. But strangely, he wasn’t eating any bugs.

For a moment, Riis was transported to his childhood on the Danish island of Lolland, in the Baltic Sea. Back then, summer bike rides meant closing his mouth to cruise through thick clouds of insects, but inevitably he swallowed some anyway. When his parents took him driving, he remembered, the car’s windshield was frequently so smeared with insect carcasses that you almost couldn’t see through it. But all that seemed distant now. He couldn’t recall the last time he needed to wash bugs from his windshield; he even wondered, vaguely, whether car manufacturers had invented some fancy new coating to keep off insects. But this absence, he now realized with some alarm, seemed to be all around him. Where had all those insects gone? And when? And why hadn’t he noticed?

The importance of insects is unquestionable, as is the fact that insect populations are in steep decline around the world. A recent article in The New York Times Magazine describes this phenomenon in an article titled “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here,” and asks, “What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?”

“[E.O.] Wilson began his career as a taxonomic entomologist, studying ants,” the article notes. “Insects — about as far as you can get from charismatic megafauna — are not what we’re usually imagining when we talk about biodiversity. Yet they are, in Wilson’s words, “the little things that run the natural world.” He means it literally. Insects are a case study in the invisible importance of the common.”

How do we change the downward trajectory insects and species in general are experiencing? Discovering and understanding the role of each species is a critical pillar in E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth, a call to protect half the land and sea in order to manage sufficient habitat to reverse the species extinction crisis—insects included—and ensure the long-term health of our planet. The Half-Earth Project is bringing this grand goal to life, so future generations may have the opportunity to accidentally swallow a bug.

Full article.