Why are there so many insects? – Murry Gans


If insects suddenly morphed
into large beings, and decided to wage war on us, there’s no doubt that humans
would lose. We’d simply be crushed
by their sheer numbers. There are an estimated 10 quintillion
individual insects on Earth. That’s a one followed by 19 zeroes. So, compared with our population
of about 7 billion, these invertebrates outnumber
us by more than a billion to one. Their astounding numbers exist
at the species level, as well. There are more than 60,000
vertebrate species on the planet. But the class of insects contains
a million known species, and many others
that haven’t been classified. In fact, these critters make up
approximately 75% of all animals on Earth. So, what’s their secret to success? Insect abundance comes down
to many things that together make them some of the most
adaptable and resilient creatures, beginning with their impressive
ability to breed. Many species can produce hundreds
of offspring within their lifetimes. Most offspring will die, but more than enough will survive
into adulthood to reproduce. Offspring also mature very rapidly, so the cycle of reproduction
resumes quickly, and can occur over and over again
in a short time. These numbers mean that as a class, insects harbor a tremendous amount
of genetic diversity. The different species contain
a wealth of genetic data that give them the necessary adaptations
they need to thrive in a range of environments
across the planet. Even some of the most extreme
environments are in bounds; Flat bark beetles can live at
-40 degrees Fahrenheit, Sahara Desert ants can venture out when surface temperatures exceed
155 degrees, and some bumblebees can survive
18,000 feet above sea level. Insect exoskeletons also work
like body armor, protecting insects against
the outside world and helping them cope with habitats
that other creatures can’t. Even their small size, which we might see as a disadvantage, is something they use to their benefit. Because most species are so tiny, millions of insects can inhabit
a small space and make use of all the available
resources within it. This means they can occupy hundreds
of different niches across ecosystems. Some insects survive by eating the roots, stems, leaves, seeds, pollen, and nectar of specific plants. Others, like wasps, make use of live insects
by paralyzing the victims and laying their eggs inside so that when the hatchlings emerge, they can eat their way out
and get nourishment. Mosquitos and biting flies feed on blood, taking advantage of this unusual resource
to ensure their survival. And a whole bunch of other insects
have built a niche around feces. Flies lay their eggs there, and some beetles even build
large balls out of animal dung, which they eat and use as accommodation
for their eggs. And then there’s the insects’ mighty power
of metamorphosis. This trait not only transforms insects, but also helps them maximize
the available resources in an ecosystem. Take butterflies. In their larval caterpillar form, they chomp hungrily through leaves
at a rapid rate to help them grow and spin cocoons. But when they emerge as butterflies, these insects feed only on flower nectar. Metamorphosis means the larvae
and adults of one species will never compete for the same resource, so they successfully share
an ecological niche without limiting their own success. This process is so efficient that an incredible 86% of insect species
undergo complete metamorphosis. We’re big and they’re small, so it’s easy to forget that these critters
are moving in their millions all around us, all the time. But examine almost any patch of ground, and you’re sure to find them there. Their numbers are immense,
and their success is unmatched. We may have to accept
that it’s insects, not us, that are the true conquerors
of the planet.

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82 thoughts on “Why are there so many insects? – Murry Gans

  1. Delve deep into some of the most astounding aspects of nature with this playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSTNyHkde08&list=PLD018AC9B25A23E16

  2. Humans would win there isn’t high enough percentage of Oxygen available. If insects were to all become large they would die off relatively quickly.

  3. Challenge accepted…… (interacting a rolly Polly)
    Me: were are the Miskitos and the yellow jackets hiding!!!!!

    Rollypolly: just don’t hurt my fifth arm sir I’ll tell yes.

    Me: oops

    Just kidding rolly Polly is safe lol

  4. A billion to one?! Why would they need to get big, they could beat us NOW

    And don't say "oh we have bug spray" yeah try holding that up to A BILLION WASPS

  5. 0:32 – was anyone else hoping that the animator was going to put the amount of insects next to the person to represent the ratio of popularity?

  6. I've always wondered if aliens could scan earth and think whatever the most abundant living organism was actually the ruler or at the top of the totem pole so to speak, would they just keep on going thinking there's nothing here but some single celled virus or a bacteria

  7. I thought you'd mention how they are the most important part to the enviroments, and that's why they are so diverse and functional and adaptive towards it.

  8. I traped ants and mosquito in a tube, 2-3 days later they die, insects may outnumber us but they dont have the brains

  9. It'd be nice if you also put temperatures in Celsius and distances in meters, your viewers are not only in the USA

  10. Nah humans still superior. Even if insects were to increase their size to rival humans, humans are still the top preditor and we would just go on a killing spree worldwide making it a sport.

  11. Insects can travel around the world without leaving a ginormous carbon footprint, they do not destroy habitats just to get food for themselves, they do not hunt other creatures just for sports, they can communicate with each other without a cell phone, they can survive their entire lives without money, they don't take themselves somewhere every week to a miserable job just to pay some bills, they work together without a supervisor president or the cops and the legal Institution. Insects are orders of magnitude more intelligent than humans any day.

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