Who On Earth Thought Insects Were a Good Idea?

They nip, bite, sting, burrow into the flesh, occupy our intestines and eat eyeballs. They spread diseases and those that don’t spread diseases carry the bacteria and viruses that do spread diseases.

In short, they are an unecessary evolutionary sick joke. They weren’t created by a Creator, they were created by the Creator’s morbid teenage son who had seen too many horror films.

A recent BBC Radio 4 programme made a valiant attempt to rehabilitate the fly. “Without flies, we’d be neck high in corpses,” said the presenter. No, we’d be using those corpses as fuel for power stations. In other words, we’d find a use for them, we wouldn’t be sitting around wishing there were swarms of small vomiting pests to eat them.

Has anyone ever got close enough to a hornet to ask why it’s such a bad-tempered bastard? Why can’t large spiders walk a bit quicker so that they don’t look like they’re creeping up on you with a menacing look in all their eyes. Do Daddy Long Legs really need to crash into your face?

Experts will tell us that insects have a place in nature, a role to play. But most of the time that role involves eating each other. Without insects birds would have evolved to eat berries, nuts, flowers, fish and anything else they can get their evolved beaks around. Without insects evolution would simply have followed a different route. To borrow a phrase used by Eddie Izzard, there are no tangled slinkies; we live in a world in which tangled slinkies never existed. Do you miss them? Has nature suffered as a result?

No, and it wouldn’t have suffered without insects. Bigger predators would have eaten the dead, the undigested remains breaking down like rock, dissolved by acidic rain or used by beavers to build ever bigger dams.

Scotland would be midge-free. The desert would be safe to walk barefoot without stepping on a scorpion. The jungles of the world wouldn’t have stick insects the size of golf clubs or beetles as big as lawnmowers. And if you still have sympathy for things with their skeleton on the outside, would you like to share the earth with prehistoric insects? Dragonflies bigger than Vin Diesel. No, thought not.

insects_USDA
A mosquito treating itself to a free lunch. (photo US Department of Agriculture)

The only redeeming factor is that 99% of insects are small. Sometimes, that’s what makes them so insidious: you never know which orifice they’re going to creep into when you’re asleep. There was a statistic that said in a lifetime we accidentally eat three hundred spiders when we’re asleep. They fly into our ears, into our eyes, people get stung in the mouth.

There’s no evolutionary justification; the biosphere does not depend on them. There’s no dietary justification; people only eat bugs for a bet or to show off on Facebook. There are no health benefits, no aesthetic qualities (I don’t know of a single Romantic poet who wrote an ode to a cockroach); even vegetarians squash them.

What can we do? They’re impossible to count, so we don’t know how many trillions there are. They breed like flies – especially flies – and they’re immune to nuclear attack which means if they ever develop intelligence they’ll not only nip, bite and sting us, they’ll be able to blow us up as well.

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32 thoughts on “Who On Earth Thought Insects Were a Good Idea?

  1. Having a good summer, Chris? Enjoying the circle of life, etc?

    On another note, I LOVE your blog’s snazzy new clothes. They are very smashing. Not to mention a bit easier to read TBH. May they live long and attract visitors like a rotting carcass attracts the flies you love so much.

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  2. The insects thought it was a good idea. No, seriously.

    They figured out how to withstand environmental pressures (their small, compact, armored exoskeleton) and breed efficiently. If the layman must learn only one thing from evolutionary law, it is that natural selection favors organisms that are *reproductively selfish*.

    Insects have mastered that better than any class in the animal kingdom. Efficiency over complexity, baby!

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  3. As for inspiring works of art, well, Hans Werner Henze wrote a song about a praying mantis, and John Donne wrote a poem called ‘The Flea.’ And what would science fiction and horror writers do without bugs and spiders?

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    1. I remember The Flea, now that you mention it. Never heard Henze’s song though.

      I did think maybe we should have a special category for pollinating insects; bees are all right and butterflies don’t do any harm. But then folk will start pulling out all kinds of reasons for keeping this and that and we’ll be back to square one.

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      1. The Henze song is pretty rarified classical stuff. I ran across it some years ago while totally taken with British tenor Ian Bostridge. Henze is a contemporary German composer and wrote the songs of which the mantis one is a part especially for Bostridge. It’s quite creepy, given the female mantis’s habit of dispatching the male right after mating. Totally lends itself to exploration in art. I agree that some insects (etc.) are considered good (bees) and others bad (mosquitoes, flies). I don’t mind spiders in the house, as long as they aren’t huge, but can’t abide ants, flies, silverfish and earwigs. Your post certainly resonated with me!

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          1. Shudder! I think it was recorded before Youtube became what it is today. I’ll have to dig out the CD and listen to it again, after all this. I’ll bet spiders love greenhouses. Another reason I’m glad I don’t have one.

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  4. But you’re forgetting how useful fly larvae (maggots) can be if you have a suppurating ulcer. I won’t go into too much detail in case you’re eating your dinner, but did you know…they nibble away at rotting flesh and hey presto, your leg ends up as good as new so off you go bounding up the hills again like a mountain goat (providing you could do this beforehand of course).

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  5. I still believe it’s a possibility that spiders are an alien life form, attracted to us by the plethora of other bugs. But why those other bugs are here remains a mystery. Perhaps, the inner manic-depressive writer in me posits, they were seeded here by their spider-overlords, ensuring food would be plentiful when the spiders themselves arrived… Hmm.

    Anyway, good post, especially in pointing out that we wouldn’t be drowning in corpses just because the flies aren’t around to eat them. XD

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  6. They might be thinking the same about us.
    (We are home to several different types of spiders (not actually insects of course)who usually comply with the house rules:
    1. Come out a night when we’re in bed.
    2. Organise your webs in places where no visitors ever go
    3. Stay out of the bath.
    4. Stay out of the underwear.
    Thus the fly and other insect populations remain minimal)

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