10Q Mr. Bug, 10Q – 10 Quintillion Bugs and Counting
July is here and my days outside are numbered. Mosquitoes have arrived to dine and I am the main course. So, while I try to enjoy a summer barbeque on the patio, mosquitoes are munching on my legs despite my attempts at chemical warfare. This spring, was an equally trying time for friends out east. The invasive and damaging Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs were on the rampage. Here in the Midwest, our variety is less troublesome. They do find their way into my home to winter with the Ladybugs, but as yet, I still have to say I prefer them to the mosquitoes.
I also prefer the Millipede and Pill Bug neighbors living quietly in my yard even as they invade my basement. I adore the Honey Bees in the garden and root for scientists and bee keepers as they work to save colonies that are struggling to survive Colony Collapse Disorder. The Cicadas are amusing this time of year and the arrival of 17-year Brood X in 2004 remains one of my fondest bug memories. More frightening, but generally avoiding humans, is their arch enemy, the Cicada Killer Wasp, a beast that paralyzes the poor cicada with a sting and then serves the immobile cicada to newly laid wasp eggs for dinner. Meanwhile, ants build their mounds near the patio, termites enjoy the wooded hillside, and all sorts of beetles hide under the rocks. We are surrounded by bugs.Which brings me to the number 10 Quintillion and why I’m thinking about insects. Just look outside (and in) and you will quickly see that you are outnumbered by bugs – but by how much? It turns out that there are an estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects (that’s 19 zeros), on this planet. In other words, for every person, there are about 1.4 billion bugs!
I hope it is unlikely that I’ll ever encounter a billion bugs at one time, but if I did, this is what it might look like. Bugs are very small and so Entomologists typically report their weight in milligrams (mg) – it takes 453,592 mg to make one pound.
1 Mosquito weighs 2.5 mg – 1 billion Mosquitoes would weigh 5,512 lbs!
1 Honey Bee weighs 90 mg – 1 billion Honey Bees would weigh 198,416 lbs!
1 Cicada weighs 500 mg – 1 billion Cicadas would weigh 1,102,312 lbs!
Needless to say, I don’t like my chances with the mosquitoes and as for the bees and cicadas, I’ll hope not to encounter them all at one time. But swarms of this magnitude are possible – Locusts, a large breed of grasshopper, swarm in numbers estimated at 1 billion. This spring, Egypt and Israel encountered large locust swarms and Madagascar suffered significant damage to crops brought on by the locusts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTOgUjMcQWk).
1 Locust weighs 2,000 mg – 1 billion Locusts would weigh 4,409,249 lbs!
Insects, like locusts, clearly have the advantage in numbers. So, perhaps the answer is – If you can’t Beat them, Eat them! That’s exactly what they did in Israel and what some scientists and food experts are recommending for our sustainable dietary future. The UN issued a report this May, titled “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security” (http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e00.htm). It takes enormous resources, food, land space, and energy, to raise animals for our diet. Insects are more economical to raise and offer good nutritional value, too. The locust, for instance, is high in protein and fiber; it is a common food in other parts of the world along with other insects (http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/17/travel/travel-guide-insects).
So, perhaps this summer I’ll not be defeated and call to mind the Circle of Life, instead. While I continue to combat mosquitoes in their quest for me as dinner, I’ll try my hand at Barbequed Bug as I watch my all-time favorite insect, the Lightning Bug, dance in summer’s twilight. I just hope my BBQ bug tastes like chicken.
Video from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
Video from Nova scienceNOW from PBS