Everyone knows that if it weren't for honeybees, we'd have no honey. But did you know that if it wasn’t for a tiny insect called the chocolate midge, which pollinates cocoa flowers, there would be no chocolate bars?
Or how about this: Fruit flies are essential to medical and biological research experiments, and ants were important to the development of antibiotics.
Local entomologist Luis Santiago-Rosario thinks youngsters need to know why it's important to love bugs.
“They are the most important and diverse animals in the world," Santiago-Rosario said, "and we need to see their beauty and importance."
Insects turn dead plants and animals into soil and pollinate the flowers and crops on which our food supply depends. They also provide food for other animals, like birds and bats. Insects even control pests that are harmful to humans.
Life as we know it would be impossible without them, said Santiago-Rosario.
The LSU doctoral student will speak on “The Importance and Beauty of Insects” on Nov. 6 in a Zoom presentation through the LSU Museum of Natural Science's "Special Saturday" program. Register for the online event at lsu.edu/mns (under Education & Programs tab).
You can also view it at these East Baton Rouge Parish Library branches — Bluebonnet, Delmont Gardens, Greenwell Springs and Jones Creek. The libraries will also offer information packets that include coloring sheets, activities and crafts to go along with the presentation.
“I hope to dispel the fear that some kids are taught about being scared of insects and have them develop an appreciation for how amazing these animals are,” said Santiago-Rosario, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist.
Insects comprise roughly half of the animal kingdom and live everywhere — from deep inside caves to high in the Himalayas.
By definition, an insect is an arthropod with six legs, all attached to the midsection of the body. Most have two pairs of wings, forewings and hind wings, and their exoskeleton is segmented into three parts: the head, thorax and abdomen. They have compound eyes and one pair of antennae.
“What I hope for kids to understand is that there is a balance between bugs like cockroaches they may find disgusting, to understanding that they have a very useful ecological role," he said. "They evolved over time to help us all.”
Cockroaches, he explained, eat and remove waste and cells we shed. Their movements generate nutrients in the soil, and they have great input into the ecosystem.
But, beyond their importance, Santiago-Rosario also wants to share the beauty of bugs, like the scarlet-bodied wasp moth and the Halloween pennant dragonfly.
“It’s easy to see the beauty of the butterflies, but what about the coloration of the grasshopper or the armor of the praying mantis?” said Santiago-Rosario, who has photographed lots of beautiful insects, some in his native Puerto Rico.
Emma Reynolds, outreach coordinator for the LSU Museum of Natural Science, said the presentation is part of the Special Saturday program that, pre-COVID-19, was open to the museum's visitors.
“We’ve been able to partner with the library to help continue to share our educational programs with the public until we can meet again in person,” Reynolds said.