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July 23, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Science: What’s It Up To?

A Bug’s Life

Insects. To most people they are but a minor annoyance, to others they are the most shitbrickingly terrifying things on Earth. But maybe you didn’t realise that they are essential to our survival, as the main pollinators of our crops that feed the billions on this planet. I compiled a list of facts about insects that might cause you to rethink your opinion of our chitinous friends.

According to Pulitzer Prize winner, Dr E.O. Wilson of Harvard University, there are nearly 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10 quintillion) insects in the world. However, out of the estimated 30,000,000 species on earth, scientists have only identified 1,000,000.

Bees must collect the nectar from two thousand flowers to make one tablespoonful of honey. In its entire lifetime, the average worker bee produces 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.

In Africa swarms of Locusts may contain as many as 28,000,000,000 individuals. A large swarm may eat up to 80,000 tonnes of grain and other vegetation in a day.

Glow worms and fireflies are the world’s most efficient light producers. An average electric light bulb gives off 90 per cent of its energy as heat, and only 10 per cent as light–not possible if you’re a flammable insect. Instead, they produce light through an efficient chemical reaction that allows them to glow without wasting heat energy. All 100 per cent of the energy goes into making light.

Soldier ants use their heads to plug the entrances to their nests and keep intruders from gaining access. In certain ant species, the soldier ants have modified heads, shaped to match the nest entrance. They block access to the nest by sitting just inside the entrance with their heads facing out like a cork in a bottle. When a worker ant returns to the nest, it will touch the soldier ant’s head to let the guard know it belongs to the colony.

Nocturnal flying insects evolved to navigate by the light of the moon. By keeping the moon’s reflected light at a constant angle, the insects can maintain a steady flight path and a straight course. Artificial lights interfere with an insect’s ability to detect the moonlight. Once it flies close enough to a light bulb, it attempts to navigate by way of the artificial light, rather than the moon. Since the light bulb radiates light on all sides, the insect simply cannot keep the light source at a constant angle, as it does with the moon. It attempts to navigate a straight path, but ends up caught in an endless spiral dance of around the bulb.

If you found any of this interesting, I suggest you check out the BBC’s Life: Insect episode to get a glimpse of the insect world in glorious HD. Long live David Attenborough.

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