Speaking up for the little ones: why bugs need our help more than ever

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf spider?

Insects and other arthropods often feature as a source of consternation across the world. While in some places some creatures like spiders can be lethal, those in the UK aren’t able to inflict fatal bites.

A recent study, published in Plos One, found that people react to different types of arthropod in different ways. While spiders and scorpions were often associated with high fear scores, other insects weren’t so much feared as caused disgust.

The authors suggested that a fear of spiders may have been evolved as a defense against more dangerous species in the past, while disgust could be related to an association between insects and a lack of cleanliness or disease.

Gavin, who was not involved in the study, attributes our feelings as a ‘social quirk’.

‘I think a lot of people don’t want to see insects, and so really dislike them,’ explains Gavin. ‘When they start to make themselves very obvious, people start to worry about what they’re doing.

‘It’s odd for us to see insects in our human landscape, but people seem to be forgetting that really our world should be full of insects all the time.’

One insect that featured recently in headlines was the cranefly, also known as the daddy longlegs. At this time of year, many species of cranefly are maturing as adults. During their limited remaining life, it’s a rush for these insects to mate, lay eggs and then die.

This year’s weather may also have contributed to the numbers of craneflies we are seeing. However, while the craneflies may be a bit disconcerting to look at, Gavin says they’re an important part of the ecosystem.

‘Craneflies are totally harmless and I think rather lovely,’ says Gavin. ‘For whatever reason, they spook people. Maybe it’s the long legs, or perhaps it’s the larvae eating the roots of various plants.

‘On the other hand, I would have thought we would welcome them in our gardens because starlings love them, as the birds probe around in the soil and looking for the larvae to eat. They’re a big food source for starlings, which are a red listed species with a declining population in the UK. The insects also help break down decaying plants for soil.’

Another underappreciated insect Gavin singles out for attention is the earwig. Having scarred a generation thanks to George’s Marvelous Medicine, he says they’re ‘unfairly maligned’.

‘They tend to creep people out, but they’re relatively innocuous things really,’ Gavin says. ‘They just go about their business eating other insects and take amazing care of their young. The name might put people off, that and their pincers, but they’re no threat to people whatsoever.’

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