This article was published originally on 11/14/2012
The approaching holidays remind us to be thankful for the good things in our lives. Insects are usually not something we are grateful for; insects can be pests in our homes, they eat our plants, they feed on our blood, and they carry deadly diseases. Most of us can easily list several reasons why we might be better off without insects, but they so also bring positive things to our lives. Here are some of the reasons I am thankful for our 6-legged cohabitants of this planet.
I am thankful insects pollinate many of my favorite foods; apples, pears, squash, pumpkin, melons, almonds, cranberries, to name just a few.
Let's not forget about honey. Without insects we would not have this amazing substance to sweeten our lives. And beeswax. I enjoy my beeswax candles and lip balm and appreciate that honey bees make this stuff to hold their honey.
It is wonderful that insects are so beautiful. A butterfly skimming by on a warm afternoon never fails to bring a smile to my face. And insects are an inspiration for jewelry and art (gift-buying hint!).
I am glad there are insects to consume dead animals. Although not pleasant to think about, it would be a very smelly drive to grandma's house on a warm day if insects were not helping break down and recycle road-kill. In addition, insects help decompose dead trees, plants, and leaves. It would be a very different world if these things never went away. Speaking of recycling, eliminating dung is one of the jobs that someone has to do, and aren't we glad there are dung beetles to do it so it's not us.
I am grateful insects can be so noisy. What would summer be without the drone of cicadas in the trees? How romantic would gazing at the stars be without the crickets singing in the background?
I love how interesting insects are. They live in a whole different universe than I do. The wasp searching for a spider to drag back to her nest and feed to her young; the ground beetle searching for prey under the mulch; the ants tending the aphids because they eat the honeydew the aphids produce. Just in my backyard there are endless hours of interesting things to observe.
I am glad insects eat other insects. We would quickly be completely overrun with pest insects if it were not for all the lady beetles and lacewings and parasitic wasps, and a whole host of insects out there to keep populations of those problematic insects in check.
I'm grateful that insects are a food source for the rest of nature. Animals that eat insects include bats, trout, warblers, toads, frogs, lizards and snakes. I'm glad there are insects to keep all these other interesting and beautiful animals alive.
I am also thankful that at least some people are considering insects as a source of human food in this country, just like insects have been a food source in some cultures for tens of thousands of years. We aren't ready to eat insects yet for thanksgiving dinner but maybe someday insects will be seen as a nutritional and sustainable food resource.
I'm grateful that over 5,000 years ago someone figured out how to unwind a silkworm's cocoon and make fine thread and fabric for the silk clothing, neckties, and sheets.
And where would we be without insects in books and movies. I love cartoons like 'A Bugs Life' and 'Bee Movie' but have to admit that I get to freaked to watch 'The Fly' and 'Arachnophobia'. And of course how would children learn about the days of the week without 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'.
I hope I have given you at least one reason to be thankful for the insects in your life. I am thankful I am an entomologist and get to work every day with the insects I love, and as part of ISU Extension and Outreach I get the joy of helping people understand and manage the insects in their lives. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday and if you see any insects buzzing at your window be sure think about all the good things insects do before you smack it with the rolled up newspaper.
The author's appreciation of insects started at an early age.
Author's note: "I have been thankful for insects all my life.'