Be Kind to Bugs
Invertebrates are the backbone to life on earth (ironic since they have none themselves) yet they are probably one of the most underappreciated, hated, and stigmatized animals (yes they are animals). Spring has sprung and we are seeing the return of the arthropods which may or may not bring you joy. I personally have always had a love for insects, spiders, worms and every other crawly thing since I was a kid but everyone around me always seemed to be disgusted at my little bug friends. Even now as an adult I see people wincing at the mere thought of having a bug close to them. I guess I have figured out that we as humans have an innate fear of the creepy crawlies, but I still wonder if that innate fear is actually learned.
I have been working with kids and bugs for a long time now and I have noticed a common theme when it comes to parents and children. Children are not afraid of bugs as long as they have not been taught to be afraid. During many educational programs that I have led or participated in, that involved guest interaction with bugs, the kids are always the ones to have little to no fear of the bug. They are curious and ask questions but they show no fear unless their parents exhibit fear of the bug as well. I have seen kids run up to me while I was showing off a bug in my hand and get so excited about touching a cockroach or millipede but once the parent comes closer and expresses their disgust the child backs off and their attitudes completely change for the worse. I think this exhibits our learned fear of bugs very well, and that we can retain at least a level of respect or curiosity for these important creatures.
The value of bugs is very undersold. Without bugs the world would be covered in dead stuff, feces, and we would have limited food sources. 80% of all animals on earth are arthropods. Despite being drastically overrun by bugs and relying on them for so much we seem to still hate them. Maybe we should think about why we react the way we do? The main reason I think that we react the way we do is because arthropods are so different than other animals and humans hate different. Humans have long prosecuted and judged each other for being different in any way than what is considered normal and that tendency to judge translates to bugs. Another more reasonable reason to fear bugs is their potential to harm us but only 23 species of arthropods carry diseases that can harm humans, but put that number into perspective, there are a total of 800,000 documented species of arthropods. The fear of being envenomated by a bug is also a legitimate fear that people have but there is an average of 6 human deaths a year from spider bites specifically in the United States. Compare that number to the number of people killed by dogs which averages about 30-50 a year (I still love dogs though). In the end it seems like the benefit of arthropods far outweighs their negative impact on humans.
Our learned fear of invertebrates may also be related to our culture. In the United States the amount of money that was spent on invertebrate pest control last year was $26.2 billion. We strive to have a perfect urban environment free of insects that are mostly a nuisance and don’t really cause any harm. We are obsessed with blocking out nature and making a pristine sterile environment. But that is not the perspective of everyone. Many indigenous cultures in the U.S and around the world have completely different perspectives on bugs.
In Japan bugs are highly celebrated, there are festivals dedicated to them and battling beetles are very popular among young kids. Many people invite different kinds of singing insects into their homes because their songs bring them joy and delight. In Japan insects or mushi are respected and honored. Even if a farmer wishes to get rid of crop pests a special ceremony is performed to bid them goodbye. In Ancient Egypt the mighty Dung Beetle was seen as a symbol of the god Khepera who controlled the sun. Their frequent rolling balls of feces across the desert was seen as the equivalent of moving the Sun across the sky. In many North American indigenous cultures spiders are seen as a wise goddess that teaches the people the very culturally important art of weaving. In Ashinaabe the word for insect is Mnidoosh which directly translated into english means “little spirit”.
In the end we have to remember to recognize the “little spirits” that we share this earth with. It’s time to reframe our perspectives on these amazing creatures and their amazing importance they play in all our lives. I have included pictures of some of my favorite bugs that I have seen at the Rosewood wetlands and other areas in Reno.
About the Author:
Irene was born and raised in Reno and graduated from Cal Poly Humboldt in 2020 with a degree in Zoology and a minor in Studio Art. She has spent the last few years working in different places across the country such as upstate New York surveying insects for a farmscape ecology program, working with the Entomology Department at the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans and most recently an Invertebrate Zookeeper for the Toledo Zoo in Ohio. She has a strong passion for lesser loved creatures like invertebrates and reptiles. In her spare time Irene enjoys exploring the local landscape, keeping pet reptiles and invertebrates and making a variety of art. She hopes to teach people to love the unloved and understand their important roles in our ecosystems.