by Shannon – Near the end of his career, my advisor, Tom Eisner, wrote a famous book entitled “For Love of Insects“, about his passion for our six-legged cohabitants on this planet. From beetles with boiling butts to warmongering termites, Tom showed us, with passion and sheer delight, the incredible natural world we live in.
Both Tom and I grew up in an environment where insects were friends. From his childhood in Uruguay to mine in Northern New York State, both of us grew up fascinated by the myriad of forms of insects – the grace of a butterfly, the cunning of a mantis, the strength of a beetle. Some insects were harmful, yes. Some stung or produced noxious chemicals when you stepped on them. But the vast majority were harmless to humans and a quick walk in my backyard in DePeyster let me know how important each insect was to the “vast communicative interplay” (Tom Eisner’s words) on this planet.
Today things are different. Many children don’t have the same opportunities that Tom and I had to experience nature as a child. The World Health Organization tells us that as of 2007, more than 50% of the world lives in towns and cities. By 2050, that will have climbed to 70%. In the megacity of Bengaluru, we see this trend acutely. In 40 years, Bangalore has grown from a city of 2 million to 12 million – a staggering increase! Each year more and more people leave their farms and villages for the promise of employment and opportunities here in the city.
Our relationship with Nature, and especially with insects, is completely different in the city. Cities are for people, filled with dwellings and structures for humans, not insects. Insects are “bad” in a house – they are the cockroaches in the bathroom, the flour beetles in the kitchen, the flies on your dinner plate. Mosquitoes carry disease. Even honeybees are feared – they can sting! A child growing up in the city often learns early on that insects are something to fear and avoid. Insects represent disease and uncleanliness.
Of course, the insects we consider pests are only a tiny fraction of the 5-7 million insect species estimated on this planet. Most insects are either beneficial or important to our ecology in other ways as part of the food chain or reducing organic waste on the planet. Without insects, we would not exist.
That’s why it is so important for us to show our children, especially those in cities, the beauty and importance of insects. A child who is taught the wonder of Nature will grow to become an adult who loves and cares for this planet. On Thursday, April 12, our lab organized an “Insect Walk” for 50 Bengaluru children attending the VIVRITI Edu Summer Camp. The children took a walk around our lovely campus at NCBS, collected insects, and then observed them under the microscope. They got to see our lab and how we research these lovely animals, and then watched a short film on insects where they were quizzed on the importance of insects to our lives.
This is the third year we have held this program. It never ceases to amaze me how children who come in squeamish and anxious about insects quickly lose their fear amongst the beauty of the creatures they find. Butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, stinkbugs, lady beetles, fruit flies, ants, and bees are all carefully carried to the lab for inspection, and then released back to their homes. Our hope is that they hold on to their excitement, and teach their friends how important these tiny animals are. When they grow up, may they take this love with them and help to preserve a world that so desperately needs their attention.
Special thanks to Hinal Kharva for her hard work organizing this event!