“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in
the Universe.” - John Muir1
In the case of insects and plants, they are inextricably connected. Without bugs, three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants couldn’t reproduce,
and one-third of the world’s food crops
couldn’t produce fruits and vegetables.
This is because beneficial insects pollinate plants, along with providing protection from harmful bugs that cause disease and feed on the plants. These good
guys fall into two categories: predators
Predatory insects kill their prey by
chewing them (similar to humans chewing food) or piercing the body of the pest
with a tube-like mouthpart and sucking
out the body fluids. Parasitoid insects lay
their eggs either on their prey or inject
them into the pest where they eventually
hatch and eat their way out of the pest,
killing it in the process. Eggs laid on a
pest hatch, and the larvae eat the pest
from the outside.
Predatory beneficial insects are gener-
alist or specialists. Generalists eat a wide
variety of insects, while specialists prefer
only one or two species of bugs. Because
generalists aren’t particular about what
they eat, one species can control several
species of pests. For example, the green
lacewing preys on aphids, mealy bugs,
leafhoppers, whiteflies, spider mites, and
several other pests that cause disease in
many food crops.
The interconnectedness of bugs and
plants isn’t just a one-way relationship.
Many of these good guys are rewarded
with food in the form of pollen and nectar. Butterflies, bees, beetles, and other
pollinators move pollen between flowers,
performing the important service of pollination. Humans rely on approximately
1,000 species of plants that require pollination by insects. They consist of foods like
tea, cherries, squash, and chocolate; fibers
such as cotton to make clothes; and herbs
and spices to season foods.
5, 6 It is estimated
that in the U.S. alone, $40 billion worth of
products are made from plants each year.
Because beneficial insects perform an
Try This Experiment
important role in protecting plants and
aiding them in reproduction, attracting
them to your backyard is essential, esp-
ecially if you cultivate a garden or grow
certain flowers. However, over the past
decade, pollinator populations have been
on the decline due to overuse of chemical
pesticides and loss of pollinator habitat.
The decline of pollinator populations is
so severe that seed companies have start-
ed campaigns around the world to en-
courage the growth of plants that provide
food and habitat for beneficial insects.
Want to know how pollinators are doing
in your backyard? Try this experiment:
To find out how many pollinators are
in your yard, you will count how many
you find in the roped-off area and re-
cord your findings in a notebook. Begin
by writing the date and time you start
your observation in your notebook.
Next, thoroughly scan the plot from the
by Diana K. Williams
Discover the wonder and
connectedness of insects and
plants and enjoy your own
backyard science! Green Lacewing