Friday, December 11, 2009

Insects - Gems in Your Backyard

Above, female cicadas are attracted by the
singing male (topmost); molted skin is
what is left after the adult has emerged
(lower photo).


Dell H Grecia
Columnist, Backyard Ventures
Women's Journal

Your backyard may be full of “gems,” if it is planted to various vegetable., ornamental and herbal plants. A mini-pond tilapia , catfish (hito), or the so-called Pangasius can also add to the riches of your garden. And your joy will surely increase when harvest time comes.

But there are other gems in your backyard, which you may not be even aware of. These are the different insects which live in your garden.

My friend Dr. Abe V. Rotor, an entomologist by profession, recently shared with me a good lesson on insects, we would certainly miss nature’s sweetest sugar (honey), finest fabric (silk), and mysterious fig (Smyrna fig).

We would be having less and less of luscious fruits and succulent vegetables. As such, we would not have enough food to eat because insects are the chief pollinators. They also serve as cheap food for fishes and other animals. They are a major link in the food chain, the columns of a biological Parthenon.

According to Prof. Rotor, without insects, the earth would also be littered with the dead bodies of plants and animals. Insects are the co-workers of decomposition, along with bacteria and fungi, as they prepare for the life of the neat generation by converting dead tissues into organic materials and ultimately into inorganic forms, thus helping bridge the gap between the living and the non- living world.

Ecologically, Dr. Rotor explains that insects are the barometer of the kind of environment we live in. A pristine environment attracts beneficial insects, while a damaged one breed pests and diseases.

A. Insects Dominate the Animal World

Insects are our best friends. They are little helpers in our vegetable gardens- pollinating flowers and preying on pests.

Prof. Rotor relates that we cannot escape from insects: good or bad, beneficial or harmful. In terms of species, there are seven insects out of ten animal organisms on earth. Insects comprise 800,000 kinds, including their relatives- lobsters, shrimps, spiders, ticks, centipedes, millipedes and scorpions. Phylum Arthropoda would then comprise 80 percent of all animal organisms. To compare, plants make up only half a million species.

How have these minute insects outlived such giants as dinosaurs and mammoths? What is the secret behind their longevity?

Ants, termites and bees, according to Prof. Rotor, are the so-called social insects. Their caste system, intact and strict, has long been regarded as a model of man’s quest for a perfect society. It inspired the building of such highly autocratic civilizations as the Egyptian and Roman Empires, and the monarchical Aztecs and Mayans.

B. Insects are Good Defenders

Take the case of the butterflies and moths. Prof. Rotor says their active time is not only well defined (diurnal or nocturnal), but their food is highly specific to a plant or group of plants and their parts. Their life cycle allows either accelerated or suspended metamorphosis, depending on the prevailing conditions in the environment. This is a feat no other animal can do more efficiently. The young of a dragonfly called nymph is as fearful a hunter in water as the adult is in the air. Apparently this is this is the reason behind its legendary name.

The praying mantis, on the other hand, carries a pair of ax-and-vise. A bee brandishes a poisonous dagger, while a white tussock moth is cloaked with stinging barbs. A stink bug, for its part, sprays corrosive acid on eyes or skin. The weevil has an auger snout, the grasshopper grins with shear-like mandibles, and the mosquito pricks with a long, contaminated needle.

The beetle, according to Prof. Rotor, brings us to the medieval age. A knight in full battle gear! Chitin, which makes up its armor called exoskeleton, has yet to be successfully copied in the laboratory. Same with the light of the firefly, which is the most efficient of all lights on earth.

Imagine that: aphids, scale insects and some dipterans are capable of paedogenesis. That is, the ability of an immature insect to produce young even before reaching maturity!

Indeed, King Solomon was wise, Prof. Rotor affirms, in halting his army so that another army - an army of ants - can pass. Killer ants and killer bees destroy anything that impede their passage, including livestock and humans.

C. Insects are the Best Acrobats

Because they are small, insects can ride on the wind and current, find easy shelter, and are less subjected to injury when they fall. Also, their small size requires relatively less energy than bigger organisms do. All of these contribute to their persistence and worldwide distribution. Insects can even survive major disasters, Prof. Rotor adds.

Insects, like the crickets, are “musicians.” While their sounds are music to the many of us, they are actually coded sounds similar to our own communication. Cicadas, beetles, and grasshoppers have their own “languages.”

Termites and bees, on the other hand also have their own language, which comes in the form of chemical signals known as pheromones. It is because of them that we are now studying pheromones in humans.

D. Love of Nature, Love of God

As you work in your backyard, nature invites you to be loving; when loves dwells in you, then you begin to feel the spirit of God.

My friend Prof. Rotor was so engrossed in his study of insects that he was inspired to compose two verses for a praying mantis:

Mantis

Praying or preying you’re God sent,
You pray for rain, you share our peace;
You prey on the pest that feeds on crops,
Two lives have you all in one piece.

Your friendly gaze is for a man’s grim
Kneeling in the art of the strangler,
Yet a friend you are to the farmer,
So welcome, shy, friendly killer. ~

Women's Journal 2000

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