There Are Bugs Everywhere!

Introduction

Everyone may not love bugs, but we certainly have to live with a lot of them! There are bugs crawling on our bodies right now, and probably a lot more hidden all around our homes, offices, schools, etc. Many of us also see bugs on a regular basis, try as we might to avoid them.

However, when you delve into the subject, bugs are probably among the most fascinating creatures on earth. They’re divided into a lot of categories, so it can also be hard to grasp just what the term ‘bug’ entails. Let’s start by checking out the proper definition of bugs as we want to discuss them now:

Definition of Bugs: What Are We Talking About Here?

Macro three glorious scarab (Chrysina gloriosa) beetles on yellow flower

If you search the word ‘bug’ online, the results will show several widely differing meanings. A bug can be an insect, a problem in a computer system, or even a hidden microphone.

Here, though, we’re talking more about the term that loosely refers to insects. If we look at the proper Merriam-Webster definition, a ‘true bug’ is of the order Hemiptera, especially the suborder Heteroptera of insects. These bugs have forewings that are thicker at their base, have an incomplete metamorphosis, sucker-like mouthparts, and are usually seen as pests.

According to the same source, any arthropods (like beetles) also resemble true bugs and can be simply called bugs as well. The same goes for any insects that one usually finds annoying or harmful, such as head lice or aphids.

What is the Difference Between Bugs and Insects? 

Set of insects

Technically speaking, all bugs are insects but not all insects are bugs[1].

However, in everyday language, we usually interchange the words ‘bugs’ and ‘insects’. This isn’t a wrong practice, since it’s so common. Here, we’re going to be talking about bugs assuming the term to cover most insects.

With bugs being just about everywhere on the planet (and even space!) it might be useful for us to brush up on our knowledge of these little critters. Knowing whether we can eat certain bugs or not can help us survive even when stranded somewhere, for example. We’ll be covering such topics and a whole lot more here.

History of Entomology

What is the Study of Bugs? 

Jan Swammerdam
source: The original uploader was DALIBRI at German Wikipedia., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The study of bugs or insects is known as entomology. It covers the various sciences–agricultural, biological, and environmental–that relate to bugs. There’s also a part of this study that focuses on how bugs interact with other creatures, including humans.

With their knowledge, entomologists can contribute a lot to fields like human health, forensics, agriculture, biology, chemistry, and so on. For instance, knowing more about bugs can help us develop chemicals for pest control that won’t harm humans or animals.

Many entomologists are also working to determine how insects might play a role in spreading disease. The research can help in preventing many people from getting sick and possibly dying. Other essential contributions include protecting livestock and crops, thereby preserving our food supply.

Furthermore, some entomologists might be mainly fascinated by bugs due to their diversity, habits, beauty, and other factors. These interests might also come in handy at times; understanding how bees operate can assist us in enhancing production from apiaries[2].

Why Should We Be Interested in Bugs?

working in orchard

The various aims of entomologists that we’ve discussed above should be enough to get us interested in bugs. Even if we’re not professionals in this field, the fact remains that bugs are interesting, fascinating, and even mysterious creatures. Knowing more about them could be useful for certain tasks, or just a way to enhance our experience of the world.

How Did Entomology Come About?

woman researcher performing examination of bacterial culture plate

If we look at the subject from a historical point of view, entomology was actually a part of almost every human culture since prehistoric times. When people started settling down and growing crops, they had to study insects that could harm their food or medicine supply[3].

Pliny the Elder, who lived between 23 and 79 AD, was a natural philosopher who penned a book on the various kinds of bugs. Ibn al-A‘rābī (760 to 845 AD), who was known as the scientist of Kufa, had also done research on flies and wrote a book about them called Kitāb al-Dabāb.

The modern form of entomology, however, is believed to have started during the 16th century. The book ‘Of Insect Animals’ was written by Ulisse Aldrovandi, while Jan Swammerdam’s ‘A General History of Insects’ was published between 1667 to 1673. The latter accurately described the nature of bugs’ reproductive organs at each stage, including metamorphosis[4].

From there on, the earliest entomological works focused on naming various species of bugs and classifying them. The practice included maintaining several cabinets full of collections. This collecting trend resulted in several natural history societies and private exhibitions taking place. Journals and new species documentation also came into being. William Kirby, who lived between 1759 and 1850, is usually known to be the father of entomology within England. This is because he contributed to and published a popular foundational text for an entomological encyclopedia.

There are several centers for entomological research all over the globe. The top ones are charted below according to their score:

Name of Institution Score
University of Florida 100
University of California, Riverside 95.23
Cornell University 91.95
Kansas State University 91.29
North Carolina State University 90.88
Michigan State University 90.74
University of California, Davis 89.88
University of Georgia 88.98
Nanjing Agricultural University, China 86.74
University of São Paulo in Brazil 86.74

Figure 1: Ranking of Entomological Departments According to the Times Higher Education’s Center for World University Rankings[5].

Bugs by Continent

Map of the world of butterflies

There are seven continents in the world, and technically all of them have some bug. You’ll see the exception further on, but let’s first go down the list and see what kind of bugs are found in each continent:

Insects of Africa‎

Close up a Mosquito sucking human blood

Africa is a huge continent and covered with a lot of rainforests that can house several million bug species. We may not know all that this continent has in the way of bugs, but the most common and interesting examples include:

  • Termites
  • Picasso Bugs
  • Devil’s Flower Mantis
  • Giant African Fruit Beetles
  • Several butterfly and moth varieties
  • Rainbow milkweed locust
  • Killer mosquitos
  • African honey bees[6]
  • Locusts (a recent plague of them since 2019)

Insects of Asia‎ 

3d rendering extreme close-up macro shot of the ant face

Again, listing all the insects found in Asia can be nearly impossible. The continent is the largest one and encompasses many cultures, climates, and terrains. However, here are some of the interesting creatures you may find from the bug world there:

  • Giant Walking Sticks
  • Warrior or Marauder Ants
  • Two-faced fulgoridae
  • Asian Beetles
  • Praying Mantis
  • Caterpillars and the resulting moths and butterflies
  • Mantids[7]

Insects of Europe‎ 

Scarlet lily beetle

There are around 4,000 known bug species within the United Kingdom, though the most common of them all are probably ladybirds. Below are the names of several UK-based insects with a striking appearance:

  • Rose chafer
  • Rosemary beetle
  • Rainbow leaf beetle
  • 22-spot ladybird (yellow instead of the usual red)
  • Green tiger beetle
  • Wasp beetle
  • Scarlet lily beetle
  • Minotaur beetle[8]

Insects of North America‎ 

Macro shot of bright black and red Poisonous Blister Beetle, Mylabris pustulata

North Americans might be doing their best to control pests in their homes, but the cockroaches, ants, termites, and other common species seem to come back quite consistently. In addition to these usual varieties, here are some interesting North American bugs that some folks may want to observe and know more about:

  • Blister beetles
  • Hercules Beetles
  • Periodical cicadas (huge broods emerge, but only after 17 or 13 years)
  • Bumblebee (play a major ecological role in the region)[9]

Insects of South America

Southern Flannel Moth Puss Caterpillar

South America is known for many things, but among the most famous ones is the Amazon rainforest. Spanning around 2.1 million square miles, this rainforest is home to some of the most beautiful and captivating bugs. These include:

  • Flannel moth caterpillar
  • Lantern Fly
  • Leafhopper Nymph
  • Rhinoceros beetles
  • Bullet ants
  • Terentia Hairstreak Butterfly
  • Praying Mantis[10]

Insects of Oceania‎ 

Male Hercules Moth

Oceania refers to the continent of Australia and the regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. These areas are known for their population of strange and potentially dangerous animals, reptiles, and insects. Some of the most interesting bug species to watch out for here include:

  • Sydney funnel-web spider
  • Golden Orb Weaves
  • Australian Witchetty Grubs
  • The Giant Prickly Stick Insect
  • Hercules Moth
  • Goliath Stick Insect
  • Bull Ants
  • Redback Spider[11]

Insects of Antarctica‎ 

Non-biting midget

With the freezing temperatures in this continent, most people assume that there’s no native life here. However, there is one–just one–native bug that has managed to survive these conditions. This bug is called the Antarctic midge, and deals with the harsh temperature through a method called rapid cold hardening.

This insect is also the largest native land animal in Antarctica. It’s flightless and grows to less than half an inch long. The most amazing fact about this insect is that it actually stays frozen solid for about nine months in a year! Not only that, its larvae have been known to survive temperatures of 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 Celsius). They can also get through after losing 70 percent of their body fluids and a whole month without any oxygen.

The physiological process of rapid cold hardening is also combined with the underground habitat that this insect prefers. While research on these species is still just starting out, knowing more about how the midges survive can help with innovations regarding human health and survival as well[12].

To get a better idea of the bug population in each continent, we may look at the following chart:

Estimated Number of Species on Each Continent

Figure 2: Estimated Number of Species on Each Continent[13] [14]

World’s Weirdest Bugs

World’s Weirdest Bugs

If you look at any bug closely, the sight will probably be a weird one. Many insects turn out to have alien-like faces, with some even being the stuff of nightmares. Even so, there are some insects that outdo their counterparts when it comes to weirdness[15]. Here are just a few of the best examples:

1. Assassin bug

Assassin bug Rhynocoris iracundus

Assassin bugs may not look too harmful, but they do have black and reddish warning colors. What makes them so weird are their sharp, beak-like weapons. With these, they pierce other insects, humans, and animals. If the prey is small enough, this bug can suck out its innards. While these bugs can’t kill humans, their bite can result in a painful lump or bump along with transmitting disease.

In addition to piercing the prey, these bugs also inject a toxin inside that liquifies whatever it touches. The ‘beak’ then acts as a straw through which assassin bugs can suck up their food.

2. Goliath Beetle

A Goliath beetle settles on a log in the gardens

This is among the largest insects on the planet. Some people keep them as pets[16], feeding them beetle jelly or dog food. There are even videos[17] about unboxing goliath beetles and how to take care of a pet beetle like this.

3. Giant burrowing cockroach

Giant cockroach isolated on white background

This is also called the rhinoceros cockroach and is the heaviest kind of cockroach species. Some specimens have weighed as much as a golf ball. The name comes from their burrowing habit, which could take them about 40 inches below ground. Like the Goliath beetle, they are also sometimes sold and raised as pets.

We may consider regular cockroaches as pests, but this one is not like them. In fact, this creature consumes dead leaves and recycles organic matter. They’re the only known cockroach to build permanent homes in the ground. Their role in the ecosystem is an important one, so those in the know usually won’t kill or harm them.

4. Hercules beetle

Hercules beetle

This beetle breaks all the rules of bugs being tiny creatures that are hard to see. It can be up to 7 inches long and has a very unique appearance as well. Since these are usually found around rotting trees in the rainforest, it’s not likely that a regular person will see them in a garden or yard. However, it is not known to especially harm humans either; they can sometimes be kept as pets as well.

5. Calleta Silkmoth Caterpillar

Calleta Silkmoth Caterpillar

This is a very vibrantly-colored insect, even when compared to other colorful caterpillars. Its yellow-green body has black and blue spikes all over it, and these spikes will detach if touched. This will release their poison, which is the caterpillar’s defense system.

6. Thorn bug

Green Treehopper

While the Calleta Silkmoth Caterpillar might have thorn-like spikes, there are bugs that look like actual thorns themselves. Each of these has a thorn-like protrusion sticking out of the head area. As you can guess, this appearance makes it very easy to conceal themselves from predators.

7. Atlas Moth

Atlas moth

These moths are not only huge (some have a wingspan of about 10 inches), but their wing tips actually look like snakes. The pattern has also earned them the name of cobra moths. They’re mostly found in Southeast Asia and could be farmed to produce silk[18].

8. Devil’s Flower Mantis

Devil's flower mantis

The appearance of the Devil’s Flower Mantis is a scary one, but you may not notice that right away. In fact, you might not notice them at all, since they can almost exactly mimic the flowers they visit. They wait on the flowers for prey to arrive — including moths, flies, beetles, and butterflies– and then snatch them up for a quick meal. Despite their appearance and name, these insects are very popular among bug enthusiasts. Thousands of specimens are sold and kept as pets each year[19].

Different Uses of Bugs

Fried insects

Bugs may be regarded as pests by those who see them in their homes, but it can be surprising how useful some of these creatures can be. If it weren’t for bugs, we probably wouldn’t have many things that we now take for granted. For instance, it is due to bacteria that we have penicillin, yogurt, cheese, and many other useful items. Below are some of the top examples of how humans have used bugs through the ages:

Different Use of Bugs

1. Fishing

Snook fish

Those who haven’t gone fishing much might think that only worms are used as live bait. However, several common insects are also utilized for this. Some of these include:

  • Waxworms: This common bait is usually utilized for ice fishing, since they attract bass, crappie, catfish, perch, trout, and other types of panfish.
  • Black Soldier fly larvae: These are high in calcium and have thicker skin, which is perfect for attracting aggressive feeder like trout or flathead fish
  • Mealworms: These are skinny, hard-bodied larvae
  • Crickets: They might be hard to get on a fishing hook, but great for attracting large trout
  • Butterworms: These aren’t actually worms, but a kind of moth larvae

You can also check out this video on the best live insect varieties that can act as fishing bait:

2. A Source of Nutrition

Bamboo Caterpillar fried on wooddish

We’ll be covering bugs that we accidentally ingest later on, but here we’re talking about edible bugs that are regularly consumed in certain cultures. Some may consider them delicacies, while others might include them in an emergency survival diet. The most common and safest examples  are discussed below:

  • Grasshoppers and Crickets: these are very high in protein, and quite common in most parts of the world. In some stores, you might even find cricket powder or flour available! However, it’s recommended that you cook these critters and their powder before consumption as they may contain nematodes (threadworms). If you’re catching grasshoppers or crickets on your own, make sure to avoid any specimens with bright colors (this is a warning signal that they’re most probably poisonous).
  • Ants: These are easy to find, capture, and can actually taste decent.  However, they have to be boiled before eating, as there’s an acid in their bodies. You can eat them raw, though, as long as they’re properly dead and can’t bite.
  • Termites: This might gross a lot of people out, but termites are also a great protein source. They also live in wood most of the time, so they’re not too likely to have parasites. In fact, termite queens are prepared as delicacies in certain cultures.
  • Grubs: There are around 344 known edible grub species around the world; these include the Asian palm weevil grubs, African mopane worms, North American giant water bugs, and Australian witchetty grubs.
  • Scorpions: These are common Chinese street food.
  • Larvae: In China, one can feast on roast bee larvae, fried silkworm moth larvae, and other forms of bugs as well. These options have high levels of zinc, iron, and copper.

Generally speaking, you can probably find a lot of edible bugs when you travel the world or have to survive in an emergency situation. It can be fairly easy to catch these bugs, but the general consensus is that one should cook them before consumption.

The edible insect market is actually growing all over the world, as shown by the following chart. The data below gives us a glimpse into just how the demand for edible insects has grown or is estimated to grow in five years:

Growth of Edible Insect Market According to Region

Figure 3: Growth of Edible Insect Market According to Region (values denote million US dollars)[20]

3. Cosmetics, Food Dye, Cloth Dyes

Collection of lipsticks

Those who are interested in cruelty-free makeup usually look for lipsticks and other items that have been made without carmine. Carmine, or cochineal is a deep, bright red dye that’s made by crushing and boiling insects. While the color is a beautiful one, those who want to be vegan or oppose any kind of cruelty to living creatures don’t want their makeup to have carmine at all.

This dye originated from Mexico, way before the Spanish explorers arrived there. Cochineal was utilized by the Oaxacan native for several centuries. However, the Spanish were the ones who introduced this concept to the rest of the world.

It’s not just in makeup; carmine is also found in a lot of processed foods; soft drinks, Jell-O, maraschino cherries, and candies.

While carmine or cochineal may get a bad rap for harming live insects, some people still prefer it as the more natural way to go. It’s both a natural resource and a renewable one, along with being safer for human consumption than artificial and synthetic dyes.

4. Medicine

Oriental medicine in the treatment of people

Insects or bugs have been used in medicinal practices for a very long time. We may have heard about how leeches were used to suck the bad blood out of sick people. Below are just a few more examples of how bugs came in handy for several medical treatments:

  • The Chinese Black Mountain Ant: In Chinese medicinal tradition, this insect was widely used and believed to have an anti-aging effect. It was also believed to enhance fertility and virility. More recently, researchers in Britain have started to study the ants’ extract as a potential agent for fighting cancer.
  • Termites: In the Indian-based Ayurveda practice, termites are believed to be the answer to several diseases. The termites and their mound are both ground up to form a paste, which is then applied topically to the area that needs treating. Some of the conditions that termites were supposed to cure included body pain, ulcers, anemia, and rheumatic diseases.
  • Grasshoppers: In Africa, grasshoppers are considered to be a delicacy and also have medicinal properties. The insects are collected and sun-dried, then made into a powder that might be able to improve severe headaches.
  • Honey bee products: Many of us may have heard about the various healing properties of honey–it’s good for treating coughs, laryngitis, head colds, tuberculosis, lung diseases, and throat infections. Royal jelly is another bee product that promises several benefits. The medical use of honey bee products is called apitherapy.

A Danger of Declining Insect Populations

Bug populations all over the world are mostly declining. Not only will this wreck a lot of ecosystems, but all the uses of bugs discussed above will be adversely affected. When the bugs in question are no longer available, all these dyes, medicines, and other items will be much harder to come by. In the future, we might not be able to turn to these natural options; the respective industries may cease their production altogether or jack up the prices sky-high to make a profit.

The bar chart below shows how global insect populations have seen massive falls in their number in the past 10 years. In this amount of time, the total decline of insect populations around the globe has been around 41 percent.

Many resources[21] have shown that while some insect populations are increasing, many more are definitely on the decline. If this continues, we might soon see many ecosystems collapsing and dying out due to starvation[22].

Percentage Decline of Insect Population

Percentage Decline of Insect Population

Figure 4: Percentage Decline of Insect Population that May Threaten the Natural System[23]

Insects On and Inside the Human Body

Most of us wouldn’t like bugs crawling on our bodies, but apparently, there’s not much we can do about that. Yes, we can flick off an ant crawling up our leg or brush away a caterpillar, moth, or any bug that we can actually see with the naked eye. However, there’s bad news for those who are absolutely disgusted by creepy-crawlies. It turns out that the human body actually harbors a lot of insects, both on the surface and under the skin[24]. Let’s take a look at some of them below, but this information might not be for the faint of heart:

Human Itch Mite

Girl with blond hair, sitting with his back turned and scratching bitten, red, swollen neck skin from mosquito bites

The human itch mite or Sarcoptes scabiei var. Hominis is a kind of microscopic bug that actually burrows under the skin of humans and lives there. The adult females of this species get under the skin’s top layer, staying there and even laying eggs for several weeks.

How do they even get on the skin in the first place? It’s not from animals, as some may think, but from skin contact with other humans who have been infested.

Eventually, one may notice little raised bumps or tunnels in their skin or the redness that signals scabies. This is the disease that these mites eventually cause.

Chigoe Fleas

A little flea bites on a human

While their scientific name is Tunga penetrans there are several other names that chigoe fleas are known by in common language. These include:

  • Sand fleas
  • Jiggers
  • Chica
  • Pique
  • Niua
  • Pico
  • Suthi

These fleas usually live under the sand or dirt in tropical regions such as South and Central America. However, the pregnant females can get under a human or animal’s skin by biting it. The females then lay up to a hundred eggs and stay under the skin for a couple of weeks. With their life cycle finished, the parent flea might get to be a half an inch long before it’s naturally sloughed away with the dead skin cells we shed each day.

These bugs can cause a lot of health issues, including swelling, irritation, and itching. Ulcers, arterial infections, tungiasis, and more serious problems like gangrene and tetanus can also occur. Tungiasis is the infection most particularly linked to these bugs, and can make it difficult to walk in some cases.

Screwworm

Meat fly larva

These are parasitic flies, also known as mango, bot, tumbu, or maggot flies. The adult of the species might not live on the human body, but they might lay eggs on the skin. They will either glue on their eggs using a sticky substance, or put them inside open wounds. The larvae could live in a human for up to ten weeks before growing into tiny flies and dropping away to complete their life cycle.

This infestation is known as myiasis and usually appears in the form of a lump. At times, the larvae’s movement is visible inside the lump, which may get infected.

Hair Lice

Lice on the hair

Hair lice mostly live, mate, and lay eggs on the surface of your skin and the hair shaft. At times, the eggs might be just under the skin. Lice will feast on a human’s blood and cause infections, irritation, and even diseases such as typhus[25].

Loa loa worms

Technology of security concept. personal authentication system

These worms are transmitted by black flies and deer flies, which infect a host after feeding on them. The loa loa worm can enter the host through a bite, living in the skin tissues and even entering the bloodstream at times. Some people have even seen the loa loa worms moving right under their skin and even on the surface of their eyes! Naturally, an infestation like this calls for medical intervention[26].

Bedbugs

Bed Bug

While many bugs may be the cause of disease and infection if they get under your skin, there are also some kinds that don’t necessarily pose much risk. Bedbugs are one of these; while they might cause discomfort, they’re not prone to spreading disease. These little flat insects have oval bodies and don’t fly. They can infest clothing, luggage, and furniture first and then come out at night to feed on human blood[27]. :

Do We Accidentally Eat Bugs?

Crispy fried insects

Unless the practice is an integral part of our culture, most of us would probably not like to consume bugs knowingly. Unfortunately, the fact remains that we’ve probably ingested several bug fragments in our lifetime. In fact, our latest bug consumption might have been in the snack we had this very day[28].

How We Ingest Bugs on a Daily Basis

Chocolate with edible worms, culinary trends

If you look at the FDA guidelines, there are a certain number of insect body parts allowed in foods. It has been pointed out that around 80 percent of the total population in the world digests insects regularly in their diets. Spencer Micheals, a reporter for PBS NewsHour, has also said that around 1,700 of the known insect species are edible. In fact, they contain a lot of protein, almost no fat, and don’t really cause any harm as compared to some of the meats we like to consume.

According to the FDA’s Food Defect Action Levels guidelines, insects won’t really risk a consumer’s health. This is why there are allowable levels of insects allowed in processed foods, though they’re probably higher than what we actually eat on a daily basis.

How Many Insects Do We Unknowingly Consume Throughout Our Lives?  

Cricket powder insect for eating as food items made of cooked insect meat in bowl and wood spoon

The answer might be a bit disturbing; according to at least one source (the USDA) the average American can consume up to 2,000 pounds of bugs in a single year[29]! This may sound extremely high, so let’s do a bit of math.

Even if we assume that dairy, fats, and meats are free of bugs, Americans consume around 905 pounds worth of food per year. These include the following:

  • 689 pounds of fruits and vegetables: An 8-ounce cup of canned fruit juice may contain up to 5 fruit flies. There can also be stowaway insects in vegetables and fruits, such as aphids in spinach
  • 24 pounds’ worth of cocoa, nuts, and coffee: There could be insect fragments in all of these; either in the main ingredients or bugs that fell in during the processing or packaging
  • 192 pounds of flour, which may also include pasta: Pasta, or at least the wheat used in it, is known to have around one bug or bug fragment per gram[30].

An estimated number of insect fragments inside the above items can be calculated and determined as shown below:

Name of Food Item

Total Number of Pounds Eaten Per Year

Insect Fragments Per Pound

Estimated Total Number of Insect Fragments

Estimated Weight of Each Insect Fragment (in ounces)

Estimated Total Weight of Insects Eaten

Fruits and Vegetables (including canned and pickled varieties)

689

545

375, 367

0.00000044

0.17

Coffee, Cocoa, and Nuts (also includes chocolates, nut butters, nut flours, etc.)

24

681

16,344

0.00000044

0.01

Wheat Flour (including all items that use it such as pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, muffins, cereals, crackers, snack bars)

192

681

130,752

0.00000044

0.06

Figure 5: Estimate of Insect Fragments in Various Food Items[31]

Bugs in Space

Abstract Art of Nature - Close Up of New Zealand Glow Worms in Cave

Bugs might be everywhere in this world, but what about out of this world? Many people may still not know that humans have actually sent bugs to space! There are also probably a lot of bugs, such as microbes and bacteria, which have traveled to space on a rocket or satellite just because they happened to be there.  In fact, some of these bugs can even cause astronauts to get sick.

All astronauts need to be in good health in order to endure physical and psychological challenges during a space flight. However, like all other humans, astronauts can be vulnerable to infectious diseases. Microbes and other “bugs” can cause infectious disease and may seriously affect a person’s health[32].

Can Bugs Fly in Zero-Gravity?

https://www.realclearscience.com/lists/7_incredible_science_questions/flying_insects_in_space.html

When we talk about bugs in space, we also have to consider flying bugs and whether they can fly in zero gravity. We actually have an answer from NASA itself on the subject. Apparently, NASA astronauts have taken several flying bugs into space and observed how the change affected their flight.

According to NASA’s reports, Honey bees (scientific name Apis mellifica) were not able to fly as they do on Earth. They would simply tumble about in the weightlessness of zero gravity. House flies (scientific name Musca domestica) mostly chose not to fly and usually simply walked on the walls. However, they did fly for some seconds and seemed to be able to control their upwards, downwards, forwards, and backwards motions along with flying left and right.

A certain type of moth (scientific name Anticarsis gammatalis) might have been the most intelligent of them all, as they figured out that there was no need to beat their wings to fly. They simply floated along in the zero-gravity condition. However, this is only for those moths that developed into adults in space. Those that were already adults had some issues with controlling their pitch.

Fruit Flies in Space

Drowned fruit flies in a small bowl of vinegar, water and dish soap

However, it seems like fruit flies are the most suitable bug for space-related biology research. According to some sources, maintaining a lot of fruit flies doesn’t involve as many resources or equipment as for other kinds of bugs. Since their life cycle is a short one, scientists can observe quite a few generations each month and draw conclusions fairly quickly[33].

In fact, fruit flies were the first live creatures ever to be intentionally sent forward into space. This occurred in February 1947, with the flies transported in a V2 rocket.  The rocket managed to get 67 miles in height before it came back to Earth. This distance just crossed the 66-mile point at which NASA considers space to begin. The fruit flies proved to be good choices; being compact and light, they were easy to store and saved a lot of fuel consumption.

Why Is It Always Fruit Flies? 

Male fruit fly on a blade of grass macro

Many of us might have read or heard about fruit flies being utilized in a lot of scientific research. Along with the benefits already mentioned, these flies are also great for testing and research due to their genetic makeup, which is very similar to that of humans. In the case of sending them to space, the fruit flies’ genetics were shown not to be mutated or damaged by the cosmic radiation. With this information, NASA could safely move forward with developing methods to send humans into space. [34]

Mysterious Bugs on the International Space Station

ISS station on orbit of the Earth planet. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

In November 2018, several major newspapers (including the NY Post and The Sun) reported that the International Space Station has an infestation of seemingly mysterious bugs. Even with all the precautions in place, this growth could cause harm to a lot of astronauts. The species is a bit hard to pin down, but researchers say that the bugs are similar to those found in hospitals on Earth[35].

Interesting Bug Facts

Kid exploring nature with magnifying glass. Little boy looking at beetle with magnifier

We’ve talked a lot about bugs now; perhaps a bit more than many folks will find comfortable. There were many facts discussed along the way, but a lot still remains to be discussed. Here are some of the most interesting bug facts that might be worth keeping in mind:

  • The world’s oldest known bug isn’t technically alive but in the form of a 424 million year old fossil. This fossil of a millipede was found in Kerrera, an island in Scotland[36].
  • The most venomous bug isn’t some brightly-colored large species with a loud pattern or shiny hue. It’s simply a type of ant; the harvester ant or Pogonomyrmex Maricopa to be exact.
  • The world’s rarest insect is said to be the land lobster[37]. That’s right; a lobster is closely related to grasshoppers and crickets. Land lobsters are also the most endangered insect and are native to Lord Howe Island (with no other known natural location). While they were once very common on that island, a steamship ran aground there in 1918. Its rats escaped and destroyed most of the land lobster population of the area.
  • There are over 200 million bugs for each human on this planet. Even this is an estimate, as there are probably many species that we haven’t even discovered yet. According to one article in the New York Times, there are 300 pounds of bugs for every human pound[38].
  • In Mexico, the delicacies include ant eggs in butter, locusts covered in chocolate, and worms covered in candy. They even have popular Oaxaca alcohol by the name of mezcal, which contains worms[39].
  • Insects breathe through their sides; more specifically, through holes in the exoskeletons, and not their mouths.
  • Ants can carry above fifty times their own body weight, but the strongest insect is actually the dung beetle; this big can carry up to 1,141 times their own weight.
  • The feet of houseflies are sensitive enough to detect sugar; these parts are around 10 million times more able to sense things than our human tongues.
  • Ticks can be as small as a rice grain, but grow up to be marble-sized if not killed.
  • Insects, especially dragonflies, have been around for around 300 million years, as compared to the 300,000 years of humans being alive on this planet. This means that dragonflies were probably around even before dinosaurs!
  •  A single pound of silk requires the cocoons from about 2,000 silkworms.
  • Bees can fly up to a total of 60 miles each day.
  • It requires around 10 million trips to and from the hive for honeybees to produce just a pound of honey.
  • Many bugs manage to survive extremely cold temperatures by replacing the water content of their bodies with glycerol. This is a chemical that acts like an antifreeze and protects them from freezing when the winter months come around.
  • The Brazilian Hawk Moth caterpillar has a unique self-preservation system that enables it to raise its head. It also inflates the thorax at the same time, which results in its head looking like that of a snake.
  • Around 33 percent of all bugs are carnivorous, with most hunting for food instead of eating carcasses or dung.
  • Speaking of bug hunting for food, ladybugs might consume up to 5,000 other bugs in their lifetime.
  • One colony of honeybees can make up more than 220 pounds of honey every single year.
  • In order to scare off its predators, the assassin bug piles its ant victims on its own body.
  • A red postman butterfly doesn’t produce poison on its own, but develops it by consuming toxic plants.
  • Ladybugs might sometimes play dead in order to ward off predators[40] [41] [42].

Takeaway

Even with an extended discussion on bugs, we’ve only scraped the tip of the iceberg so far. The classification of bugs is a somewhat complicated matter, as is the question of a possible insect apocalypse. In any case, it is quite evident that bugs are definitely a part of our lives on this planet and will probably be a factor even if we were to go into space. We use bugs in several industries, consume them in different ways, and try to eliminate the ones that cause issues in our homes and fields.

Since bugs are such an essential part of our ecosystem, it’s only logical that we take steps towards understanding them better. The sections above are a sort of diving board where one can take a certain aspect of bugs and delve into further research.

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/e/bug-vs-insect/

[2] https://entomology.unl.edu/about-entomology

[3] https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D11

[4] https://www.britannica.com/science/entomology

[5] https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=23700

[6] https://www.dw.com/en/the-wondrous-world-of-african-bugs/g-44226350

[7] https://factsanddetails.com/asian/cat68/sub435/item2428.html

[8] https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/uk-beetles-british-most-spectacular-and-beautiful.html

[9] https://a-z-animals.com/blog/the-5-most-interesting-insects-in-north-america/

[10] https://www.rainforestcruises.com/guides/amazon-rainforest-insects

[11] https://inquibox.com/10-interesting-insects-and-bugs-found-around-australia/

[12] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-antarcticas-only-insect-resident-survives-freezing-temperatures-180973087/

[13]https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/bugnos#:~:text=At%20any%20time%2C%20it%20is,is%20estimated%20at%20some%2073%2C000.

[14] S.E. Miller, & L.M. Rogo, Challenges and opportunities in understanding and utilisation of African insect diversity. Cimbebasia 17: 197-218, 2001

[15] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/worlds-most-interesting-insects-180974748/

[16] https://xtraordinarypets.com/a-guide-to-keeping-goliath-beetles/

[17] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E9zHeNU_zA

[18] https://www.cbc.ca/kidscbc2/the-feed/14-of-the-worlds-weirdest-insects

[19] https://holisticpestsolutions.com/worlds-weirdest-insects/

[20] https://cdn.mekkographics.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Stacked-Bar-Edible-Insects-chart.png

[21] https://www.pnas.org/content/118/2/e2023989118

[22] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/why-insect-populations-are-plummeting-and-why-it-matters

[23] http://cdn.statcdn.com/Infographic/images/normal/16960.jpeg

[24] https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-body-creatures

[25] https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/insects/common-insect-and-mite-pests-of-humans/

[26] https://www.healthline.com/health/bugs-under-skin

[27] https://theconversation.com/life-on-us-a-close-up-look-at-the-bugs-that-call-us-home-25754

[28] https://www.wyff4.com/article/gross-but-true-you-unknowingly-eat-bugs-every-day/9931927#

[29] https://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodConsumption/

[30] https://www.theunconventionalroute.com/how-many-bugs-eat-in-year/.

[31] https://www.theunconventionalroute.com/how-many-bugs-eat-in-year/

[32] https://www.esa.int/Education/Space_In_Bytes/Bugs_in_Space

[33] https://www.nasa.gov/ames/fruit-fly-lab

[34] https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/what-was-first-animal-space#:~:text=While%20many%20flights%20into%20space,rocket%20on%2020%20February%201947

[35] https://nypost.com/2018/11/23/international-space-station-infested-with-mysterious-bugs/

[36]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200528115831.htm#:~:text=A%20425%2Dmillion%2Dyear%2D,or%20other%20related%20creepy%2Dcrawly.

[37] https://ansp.org/exhibits/online-exhibits/stories/the-worlds-rarest-insect/

[38]https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/bugnos#:~:text=Recent%20figures%20indicate%20that%20there,for%20every%20pound%20of%20humans.

[39] https://www.atlasobscura.com/foods/escamoles-ant-caviar

[40] https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/fun-facts-bugs

[41] https://www.natgeokids.com/za/discover/animals/insects/15-facts-about-bugs/

[42] https://www.livescience.com/52022-startling-facts-about-insects.html