We get it…When you see a creepy, crawling critter in your home or yard, you probably want it gone as fast as possible. While most bugs and pests (like ants, termites, and ticks) have no need to make themselves at home in your yard, there are certain insects that provide immense benefits not only to your garden, but also the environment.
Insects are beneficial to your life in ways you may not even realize. From the products you use and consume to the way dead plant matter is decomposed, insects help keep the cycle of life moving and grooving. Certain insects are even responsible for pollinating plants, meaning they aid in ensuring plant populations continue to grow.
Below we’ve highlighted the main benefits that insects provide and why it’s important that certain insect populations continue to thrive.
Everyday Products Made from Insects
It’s pretty obvious that certain things, like honey, are produced by insects. But, did you know that certain types of nail polish, fabric dye, and even flu vaccines are made from bugs?
- Cochineal Dye: Ever wondered how clothing dyes are created? When it comes to red dyes, you can thank cochineal scale insects. These little guys produce a substance called carminic acid that will dye fabrics anywhere from a light red to a deep crimson color. Cochineal dye is also used to provide color for cosmetics, such as lipstick, as well as certain foods.
- Shellac: The lac scale bug is responsible for the production of shellac, which is used in wood finishes, food glazes, and shellac nail polish. Lac scales excrete a sticky material that is scraped from the bark of trees and ground down to a powdery form. The power is then combined with ethanol to produce shellac.
- Honey: Honey bees have to frequent more than 2 million flowers to collect enough nectar to make just 1 pound of delicious honey! The honey is made and stored within their beehives and is used as a food source when flowers are not in bloom. Not only is excess honey sold commercially to be consumed as food, it also used medicinally to treat cuts and soothe sore throats, and is also used in beauty products.
- Silk: Caterpillars and silkworms produce silk. The cocoons they form to protect themselves during metamorphosis (which are made of fine silk threads) are collected after their transformation process is complete and boiled with water. After the boiling process, the fine threads are spun together to form larger silk threads that can be dyed and woven into fabrics.
Fun Fact: Each cocoon is composed of thousands of very fine silk threads, and it requires more than two thousand silkworms to produce one pound of silk!
- Flu Vaccines: In 2013, the FDA approved a new flu vaccine cultured in the cells of insects that can be produced quickly in the event of a flu pandemic. A component of the flu virus called hemagglutinin is produced by infecting insect cells with baculovirus, which turns them into hemagglutinin producing factories. The hemagglutinin is then used to produce the flu vaccine.
Some insects are even key players in the process of decomposition. Dead plant, animal, and waste matter have to go somewhere, and certain types of insects (called detritivores) help in breaking down these materials. Millipedes, ants, dung beetles, slugs, worms, and flies all like to feed on dead matter, and in return produce nutrients that help plants grow.
Without this decomposition process, dead matter and waste would continue to accumulate over time, creating a thicker and thicker layer that would suffocate any new plant growth. Detritivores are classified into three categories based on the type of dead matter they consume. The three categories are:
- Insects that feed on dead or dying plant tissues – these insects help plant materials decay quickly and contribute to the production of humus, a type of soil rich in organic material.
- Insects that feed on dead animals – these insects, including beetles, flies, wasps, and ants, rapidly consume and/or bury decaying animal matter.
- Insects that feed on animal waste – these insects, called coprophages, include flies and dung beetles that help clear waste from vegetation allowing it to grow.
Insects are also useful for controlling and/or eliminating populations of non-beneficial pests. This practice, called biological control, is extremely beneficial for protecting crops and controlling weeds. When pest populations begin to cause problems, natural enemies can be released to eat the pests and prevent any further damage.
The insects used in biological control are classified as either predators, parasites, or parasitoids:
- Predators: These insects are beneficial in that they eat and kill unwanted pests. Predators include ladybugs, the praying mantis, lacewings, predatory mites, and beneficial nematodes.
- Parasites: These insects do not kill their hosts, but live and feed on them. Parasites include fleas, ticks, parasitic flies, and parasitic wasps.
- Parasitoid: These insects feed in or on the body of another insect and ultimately kill it. Most parasitoids are either parasitic flies or parasitic wasps. Parasitoids are different from predators in that they only kill one host, whereas a predator typically kills many.
Common pests eliminated using biological control practices include aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, grubs, mosquitos, root weevils, slugs, whiteflies, hornworms, mealybugs, snails, and mites.
Pollination is the process in which pollen is transferred from one flower to another by animals and insects. In fact, over 75 percent of all flowering plants, as well as 75 percent of crops, rely on insects or animals to complete the pollination process for them.
Most people only think of honey bees when they hear the word pollination, but there are many other insects (called pollinators) that aid in the transfer of pollen, including butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps, and flies.
Why Pollination is Important
Of all the beneficial aspects of insects, pollination may be the most important. It allows plants to reproduce, maintain genetic diversity, and produce enough fruit to attract seed eaters to further spread their populations.
Flowering plants that rely on pollination also produce the oxygen we breathe. That means that without pollinators, flowering plant populations, and subsequently the amount of clean, breathable air, would ultimately decrease over time. Flowering plants also help to purify water, prevent soil erosion, and are key players in returning moisture to the atmosphere as part of the water cycle.
As you can see, pollinators are pretty important in helping our environment stay on track. Now imagine what would happen if pollinator populations all over the world suddenly began to decline at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Colony Collapse Disorder
In the last several years, the number of insect pollinators around the world has drastically declined. This phenomenon has been deemed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a situation that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a honeybee colony suddenly disappear. Although there is no single causal factor contributing to the rapid spread of CCD, it is thought to be the combined result of habitat loss, pollution, and the use of pesticides on plants that bees and other pollinators frequent.
The pesticides designed to kill and remove pests from crops and gardens are actually killing the insects that naturally control pest populations. Luckily, there are some things you can do at home to help attract pollinators rather than harm them.
Responsible Pesticide Usage
To help protect honeybees and other pollinators, Acenitec will never spray plants or flowers that are in bloom. Flowering plants provide pollen and nectar to pollinators, so if pesticides are necessary, they are best applied when pollinators are not actively present and flowers are not in bloom. It is also important to be aware of where you are spraying pesticides. Always try to minimize exposure to pollinators and other wildlife as well as their food and water sources.
Acenitec will also use Safe Soap, a pesticide alternative, on flowering plants if the problem is severe. Safe Soap has insecticidal properties, meaning it will eliminate the bothersome pests, but is not harmful to pollinators.
Utilizing Your Local Pest Control Professionals
Pesticides and other pest-control chemicals can sometimes do more harm than good. It’s essential that we protect certain insects so that they can continue to provide their many benefits.
Before tackling your pest control issues on your own, consider the many factors that must be taken into account before you spray, including the timing of the pesticide applications, the potential harm to pollinators, and the risks the chemicals you use may pose to your family and pets.
The certified pest control specialists at Acenitec Pest & Lawn Services are professionally trained in applying pesticides in a responsible manner that minimizes the threat to pollinators while keeping your loved ones safe. Our long-lasting pesticide formulas also not only eliminate pests, but prepare your lawn and garden for effective pest prevention in the future.
Contact us today for a free consultation to design a pest control program that fits your needs and landscape.