Here’s what would happen if all insects on Earth disappeared

  • 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.

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What if the Earth spun sideways on its axis

Following is a transcript of the video.

Early in the history of our solar system, something mysteriously knocked Earth slightly off its axis. So today we tilt at 23.5 degrees. But what would happen if we tilted even more? What if Earth spun sideways on its axis? Well, it wouldn’t take long before utter chaos ensued.

One of the most important consequences of Earth’s axial tilt is the seasons. Seasons happen because the tilt points different parts of the planet toward the sun at different times of the year. But the tilt also means that different parts of the globe receive different amounts of sunlight during each season. And that’s where a more extreme tilt starts to cause problems. Right now, during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, places far north, like Utqiagvik, Alaska, receive 24 hours of sunlight for 82 days straight. Because Earth is tilted far enough on its axis that as the planet rotates, Utqiagvik never leaves direct sunlight. On the other hand, the contiguous US receives a max of 17 hours a day, because after that it rotates out of daytime sunlight and into night. But if we tilted Earth’s axis even more, to 90 degrees, the US would get sunlight 24/7, around the clock, for months on end. And it’s not just the US; the entire Northern Hemisphere would be like this.

At first, animals would take advantage of the extra light to find and eat more food, just like Alaskan birds, which feed their chicks extra nutrition in the summer, resulting in faster-growing babies than their southern counterparts. And plant growth would explode since they get their energy directly from sunlight. Farms in northern Alaska, for example, grow cabbages the size of rottweilers in the summer.

But while animals and plants would thrive, humans wouldn’t. We evolved to be active during the day and sleep at night. But if we were exposed to unending sunlight, our brains would stop producing the hormone melatonin, which we need to sleep at night. And that could lead to sleep deprivation, depression, and, ultimately, a more severe, chronic version of these symptoms called seasonal affective disorder, which already affects 9% of Alaskans, compared to just 6% of the entire United States.

But that’s less of a worry than the floods. Temperatures at the North Pole would more than double, to 38 degrees Celsius from 15.5 degrees Celsius. That’s hotter than temperatures at the equator today. As a result, Greenland’s ice cap would melt, causing sea levels to rise by 7 meters, and flood nearly every coastal city on Earth. Say goodbye to New York, Copenhagen, and Tokyo. To make matters worse, the warmer seas would trigger stronger and more frequent hurricanes, which form when seawater evaporates at the surface.

And the weather wouldn’t get better when winter comes six months later. Out of reach of the sun’s direct beams for months at a time, the hemisphere would get colder than any winter on record. Swirls of frigid air, called a polar vortex, which are normally dissipated by warm air in the tropics, could travel all the way down to the equator. Imagine blizzards in Florida, Brazil, Kenya! And all those thriving plants, they’d die from a lack of sunlight. Agriculture would collapse as ecosystems crumble and mass extinctions pile up.

And there would be even more floods, because meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere is getting toasty and the South Pole is home to 90% of the world’s ice. The constant sunlight would raise its temperature to 38 degrees Celsius from -28 degrees Celsius, melting the ice and raising sea levels by a whopping 61 meters. That’s almost as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Greenland’s flood would look like a puddle in comparison.

So all in all, while a few extra hours in the summer sun would be nice, let’s leave the extra seasons to Alaska and be glad the Earth is tilted exactly as it is.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider