- Although it’s impossible to say exactly what would happen if all insects on Earth suddenly vanished, it’s likely that civilization and ecosystems would be in serious trouble.
- Nitrogen-rich feces would potentially build up, choking plant life and preventing new growth.
- Meanwhile, no dermestid beetles and other corpse-eaters would lead to fewer custodians available to clean dead bodies and recycle their nutrients back into the ecosystem.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Humans might have built civilizations, but insects own the world. After all, over half of all known species are insects. So if they all suddenly vanished, you’d notice. No more summers of singing cicadas and flickering fireflies. No bees to pollinate apple, cherry, peach, or almond trees. No one to make honey. A world without insects means a world with empty grocery-store shelves. But that would be just the beginning of our problems. Now, it’s impossible to say exactly what would go down, but here’s a worst-case scenario of what could happen if all the insects disappeared.
There are a few insects most people would be happy to see vanish. Like mosquitoes. They kill hundreds of thousands of people every year by transmitting malaria, West Nile virus, and other diseases. But if they disappeared tomorrow, we might actually miss them. There are over 3,000 species of mosquitoes on Earth, all of which are food to birds, bats, frogs, and other animals. No more mosquitoes means these creatures and the animals that eat them could go hungry. The same goes for the dreaded cockroach, a protein-packed meal for birds, rodents, and even humans in some parts of the world. If we lost all 4,400 species of roach, entire ecosystems would struggle to survive. Believe it or not, we’d have even worse troubles ahead since we’d face a serious poop problem without one of the world’s greatest recyclers, the dung beetle.
You see, history has taught us exactly what happens when these critters can’t do their job. Back in 1788, the British introduced cattle to Australia, and these cows pooped a lot. Each one poops enough to fill five tennis courts every year. But while the dung beetles back in Britain would eat and break down cow poo, the native Australian beetles wouldn’t touch the stuff because they evolved to munch only on dry, fibrous marsupial dung. So the cow poop piled up. By 1960, the cattle had carpeted 500,000 acres of pasture in dung. That’s enough to cover over half of Rhode Island, and while a little bit of poop is great for fertilizer, this ocean of dung would flood plants with nitrogen, making it impossible for anything to grow. So, imagine if all 8,000 species of dung beetle, plus other doo-dining insects, like flies, vanished worldwide. The land would be knee-deep in…you know.
Farmland, forest, and desert would all collapse, and floating throughout would be loads of corpses. You see, most animals won’t eat dead bodies. That’s where flesh-eating beetles, aka dermestids, and other corpse-munching insects come in. Over 500 species of these grisly undertakers live worldwide, devouring dead flesh until nothing but bone remains. Without them, there would be fewer custodians around to clean up the mess. Sure, there would still be hungry vultures and bacteria around to help, but it wouldn’t be enough.
So, that’s where we could end up in an insect-less world. Starving to death while drowning in a sea of poop and corpses.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2019.