Would you like to try a grasshopper taco?
It might seem disgusting to you, but insects are an important food source in many places across the globe. Crickets, ants, grasshoppers, and other insects are traditional foods in parts of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Many insects are considered to be pests by humans. However, insects are also very important for numerous reasons.
Some insects are crucial components of many ecosystems. In the environment, some insects, such as wasps, bees, butterflies, and ants, pollinate flowering plants (Figure below). Many insects, especially beetles, are scavengers, feeding on dead animals and fallen trees. As decomposers, insects help create top soil, the nutrient-rich layer of soil that helps plants grow.
Bees are important pollinators of flowering plants.
Insects have tremendous economic importance. Some insects produce useful substances, such as honey, wax, lacquer, and silk. Honeybees have been raised by humans for thousands of years for honey. The silkworm greatly affected human history. When the Chinese used worms to develop silk, the silk trade connected China to the rest of the world. Adult insects, such as crickets, as well as insect larvae, are also commonly used as fishing bait.
Insects as Food
In some parts of the world, insects are used for food by humans. Some people support this idea to provide a source of protein in human nutrition. From South America to Japan, people eat roasted insects, like grasshoppers or beetles.
Insects in Medicine
Insects have also been used in medicine. In the past, fly larvae (maggots) were used to treat wounds to prevent or stop gangrene. Gangrene is caused by infection of dead flesh. Maggots only eat dead flesh, so when they are placed on the dead flesh of humans, they actually clean the wound and can prevent infection. Some hospitals still use this type of treatment.
decomposer: Organism that feeds on and breaks down dead plant or animal matter.
maggot: Immature or larvae stage of flies.
pollinate: To transfer pollen between flowers to allow fertilization to take place.
- In the environment, some insects pollinate flowering plants.
- Insects produce useful substances, such as honey, wax, lacquer, and silk.
- Insects are food sources in some parts of the world.
Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.
- What characteristic of maggots make them useful in medicine?
- How do maggots help wounds heal?
- What advantages do maggots have over surgery?
- What is the best food for silkworms?
- Why does the silkworm make silk?
- Name two ways in which insects are important to the ecosystem.
- How are insects used in medicine?