BUGS ARE ANIMALS TOO!
BY: SUSAN VAN VORHIS KEY, Ph.D., ENTOMOLOSIST

 

When you think of animals, don't you usually think of cuddly kittens, darling puppies or wild animals such as lions, tigers or chimpanzees? These are all familiar types of vertebrate animals, those furry creatures with backbones relatives of human beings.

But the vast majority of animals on this planet, a whopping 95% of them, are not vertebrates and most of these animals are much smaller than the smallest kitten. Seventy five percent of them are, in fact, even smaller than the egg of a chicken. These creatures are mostly the invertebrates spineless animals (without a backbone) Scientists have divided invertebrates into several groups including the sponges, the flatworm and the mollusks such as clams, squids, oysters and snails, to name a few.

A major group of invertebrates is the group called Arthropoda. Arthropods have exoskeleton instead of bones hard protective segmented "skin" which supports and protects their bodies, and paired, jointed appendages (antennae, mouthparts, legs).

The group Arthropoda is composed of five major types of arthropods: the centipedes, the millipedes, the crustaceans (crabs, shrimp, lobsters, and the kid's favorites pillbugs or rolly pollies), the arachnids (spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites, etc.), and finally, the most diverse group of invertebrates, the insects (Class Insecta).

Although we en joy using the word "bug" to mean insects or creepy crawly creatures in general, only a certain type of insect the order Hemiptera (a type of insect with sucking mouthparts and certain kinds of wings and antennae) can be accurately called a "true bug."

Today, there are about one million species of insects that have been identified and given scientific names. Some scientists estimate that there may be as many as 20 million more we have yet to discover!

Arthropods live almost everywhere you can imagine. The ocean is home to many types of invertebrates tide pools are good places to delight yourself with graceful sea anemones, spiny sea urchins, and any number of fascinating creatures. From tropical rain forests where thousands of insects can be found on one tree, to the deserts of the world where rocks and plants hide the abundant teeming life, insects are among the most important creatures on earth.

Your own backyard is probably crawling with dozens of invertebrate species, many of them very important in the ecosystem creatures quietly doing their jobs unnoticed, or at least unwelcome and unappreciated. Earthworms stir and aerate the soil, recycling the nutrients there, so that new plants can grow and flourish. Cockroaches may be nature's most primitive recyclers. Most of the world's roaches live in tropical areas, eating and recycling tons of decaying vegetation. Ants are responsible for a tremendous service to the planet. Carcasses of dead animals, including millions of dead insects are subject to the ant's incessant efforts to feed their brood. Without these wonderful creatures and the help of fungus and bacteria, working around the clock to feed themselves and their progeny as my friend, Art, says, "We'd be walking knee deep in dinosaurs!"

Insects, their arthropod relatives and other invertebrates are major food sources for birds, fish, and many other small vertebrate animals. Ultimately invertebrates make life as we know it possible.

Imagine a world without insects if you can. You might think you would be happier if insects weren't there to bug you. Most of us would agree that picnics and trips to the river or lake would be more comfortable without ants, flies, yellow jackets; mosquitoes and midges. Our dogs and cats would, without question, be more comfortable without the pesty flea constantly using their bodies as racetracks and snack bars.

In the larger picture of life, however, the overall value of insects to human beings is inestimable and extensive. Their contributions range from indirect ones such as the production of fruit by plants that require the help of bees and other pollinators, to the direct pleasure and fascination we can experience in looking at a beautiful butterfly or watching ants carrying loads that seem impossibly heavy as they follow their pheromone trails back to their nest.

To understand the intricate connections that bind all creatures together both in apparent and in less obvious ways, is a way to enjoy and honor all life. People are animals and bugs are animals, too! We have much to learn from and appreciate about our spineless, multilegged friends. So find a class or a book or take a nature hike and learn something new about nature's fascinating and multilegged creatures.

Let Dr. Sue Bug Your Class, School, Group or Birthday Child!

For Information About Dr. Sue's Traveling Insect Zoo Presentations and Parties, contact: Dr. Sue (Van Vorbis Key) P.0. Box 395 Tustin CA 92681-0395, (714) 731-2040.


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