We might as well refer to “Earth Day” as “Bug Day.” Insects, arachnids, and other arthropods account for over 80% of the planet’s biodiversity and biomass. They are the foundation of many food chains, the decomposers of the dead, pollinators of plants, agents of seed dispersal, and the subjects of important scientific research. No, despite all of this, we still gravitate to cute and cuddly vertebrates, the “charismatic megafauna,” as symbols for Earth Day.
We collectively tend to think of insects as organisms that will lay claim to the planet once humans have left it beyond repair, but the truth is that many insects are just as vulnerable as vertebrates to environmental degradation. State and federal lists of threatened and endangered species often include insects and other invertebrates among their ranks. Many of those are inhabitants of freshwater, cave, or dune ecosystems, among the most fragile of habitats.
While it has been difficult to gain protection even for vertebrates, endangered insects and their kin are often viewed as impediments to economic development and prosperity. “Bugs” clearly need an agent experienced in public relations and spin control. Maybe even a pitch man. Hey, where is Billy Mays when we really need him?
Earth Day would be the perfect stage for promoting insects and other arthropods as the support network for our planet. Further, as I often say, “biodiversity begins at home.” What better way to drive home that point than by lobbying to curtail the use of do-it-yourself pesticide chemicals and treatments? You would kill two birds with one stone (or possibly let two birds live by eliminating a source of environmental contamination, and promoting a healthy balance of predator and prey in the home and garden).
Entomologists, science writers, and media professionals all need to do a better job of broadcasting the fundamental truths about what arthropods mean to nature and humanity. We have been too timid, too remiss, too wrapped up in research and writing about topics that we think we can “sell” to editors, publishers, and radio and television executives. It is time for a change, and we can make it happen. Yes, we can.
For another take on Earth Day, please see Sense of Misplaced. Thank you.