Most people think that all insects are bad. But actually, a lot of insects are very useful for us. Without insects, the world would look quite different.
On this page we will learn about the different ways that insects can be beneficial to people.
Insects produce useful products
Some insects are very useful because they produce valuable products.
Honey bees are kept by beekeepers because they produce honey and wax. In some countries people collect honey from wild bees.
The pictures show a beekeeper harvesting a honey comb and then opening it to collect the honey.
Another insect that produces products for people is the silk worm. The silk worm is not a worm but it is a moth. On a silk worm farm, the caterpillars (silk worms) are fed with leaves of the mulberry tree. When the caterpillar pupate they spin a cocoon made of one long thread of silk. These cocoons are harvested to produce silk.
The pictures show silk worms (caterpillars) feeding on mulberry leaves and the yellow cocoons which will be used to produce silk.
The jewel beetles have very beautiful wings with glossy colors. These beetles are used to produce jewelry, such as earrings, and have been even used by “artists” to create art.
The picture shows a detail of a ‘painting’ (by Jan Fabre) made by using thousands of wings of jewel beetles.
Insects are useful in agriculture
Farmers need insects because without the insects many crops would not produce fruits. The insects are needed to pollinate the crops. Insects such as bees, wasps and butterflies visit a flower to collect honey. At the same time they pick up some pollen and carry it with them to the next flower they visit. In this way they help to cross-pollinate the plant, which will then produce good fruits.
The pictures show a bee and a butterfly visiting flowers. As insects fly from flower to flower to collect honey they transport pollen from one plant to another.
There are many other insects that are useful to farmers because they help control pest insects. For example assassin bugs are predators that feed on caterpillars. If a farmer has many caterpillars that are destroying his crop he will be happy to see assassin bugs which are the natural enemies of these caterpillars. This control of pest insects by other insects is called “biological control”. Also many types of small wasps are beneficial to the farmer because they can kill pest insects.
The pictures show an assassin bug feeding on a caterpillar and a lot of small Cotesia wasps who lay their eggs in caterpillars. In both cases the caterpillars will die.
In many countries, people use insects as food. Actually there are hundreds of species of insects that are edible and can be eaten by people. Some of these are collected from the wild, while others are produced on special insect farms.
Insects that can be eaten include crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, mealworms (which is a beetle larva), cicadas and water bugs. In some countries you can buy them deep-fried at the market and eat them as a snack.
The pictures show a market in Thailand where fried insects are sold as a snack and the preparation of a tasty cricket omelet.
Insects are used as food for animals
Insects can be used as live food for many pet animals. Pet birds, lizards and chameleons love to eat mealworms, crickets or grasshoppers. Also for other terrarium animals and for aquarium fish we can use insects as a healthy food.
Insects can also be used as a fishing bait, because many types of fish love to eat insects.
The picture shows a bird enjoying a mealworm.
Insects help recycling biomass
Many insects live as scavengers and feed on dead animals. Others feed on dead plant materials. In this way they help recycling of biomass in nature. This recycling process helps to create fertile top soil in which new plants and trees can easily grow.
Examples of insects that are important in this biomass recycling are ants, termites, flies and cockroaches. Another example of this recycling process is the way dung beetles feed on feces. They help recycling the dung and at the same time return nutrients to the soil.
The pictures show some dung beetles in action and a lot of termites. These insects help in recycling biomass.
Insects are kept as pets
Some people like to keep insects as pets. For example in some countires they like to keep certain crickets in a small cage because of their chirping sound. Other insects that are often kep as pets are the stick insects and the leaf insects.
Also beetles make good pets, especially the larger species such as the Goliath beetle and the Rhinoceros beetle. In some countries, people use these beetle to organize insect fights and they will gamble money by guessing which insects is going to win the fight.
The pictures show the nymphs of two species of stick insects that are often kept as pets.
Insects are used by researchers
Insects are easy to rear and multiply in large numbers. That’s why researchers often use insects to do all kind of experiments. A very famous laboratory insects is the common fruit fly (or vinegar fly). This insect has been studied a lot by researchers interested in genetics.
Insects are used in medicine
Sometimes insects are used in medicine. For example the larvae of certain flies can be used to help clean wounds; the maggots feed on dead flesh and in that way they help clean the wound. Also some insects are used to produce drugs. For example bee venom can be used as a treatment for rheumatism.
Insects are beautiful
The beauty of insects can be best enjoyed in nature. Especially butterflies and beetles can be very beautiful with a large variation of patterns and colors. Many poets are inspired by the beauty of insects and write poems about butterflies, fireflies and other insects.
I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?
A butterfly, a beetle, a hawkmoth and a carpenter bee. Insects are often very colorful and beautiful.
Are all insects good?
On this page we have learned a lot about why insects can be good for people. But of course not all insects are good; some insects can be bad. You wouldn’t like it if a caterpillar eats the vegetables in your garden or if hundreds of ants discover your sandwich. And what about that mosquito in your bedroom at night? Click here if you want to learn more about the various ways how insects can be bad for people.
This page was designed for school children and school teachers. Any comments are welcome.