Insects scuttle, chew and fly through the world around us. Humans rely on them to pollinate plants, prey on insects that we don’t get along with, and to be movers and shakers for Earth’s ecosystems. It’s hard to imagine a world without insects.
Strong, rapid wing beats with hardly any push off let mosquitoes make a fast getaway. The technique is in stark contrast to other insects, like flies, that push off first and then start beating their wings frantically, often tumbling uncontrollably in the process. That strong push off also lets us know they’re there before they have a chance to escape.
In the summer of 2011, panic gripped a small community in Gatineau, Quebec. Hundreds of small, striped insects were buzzing around a children’s playground. The playground was evacuated and entomologists were called in to establish whether or not the animals were dangerous. The answer was no, but it is easy to see why local residents were concerned. The animals that had taken up residence in the playground were hoverflies, a family of harmless fly species that have built up quite an arsenal of tricks to convince would-be predators that they are dangerous.
Insects, which include more than a million described species, represent roughly two-thirds of the biodiversity on Earth. But they have a big PR problem – many think of insects as little more than crop-eating, disease-carrying jumper-munchers. But in reality, species fitting this bill are but a tiny part of an enormous picture.