What do insects eat? | AZ Animals


Insects make up about 90% of all animal species! Today there are about 6 million species of insects! These different species exist on all continents, including Antarctica. Many animals and carnivorous plants feed on insects. Insects have a very high nutritional value based on their protein, mineral and fat content relative to their size. In many human cultures, some insect dishes such as fried cicadas are a delicacy. Insects eat many, but what do insects eat themselves? In this article, we’ll explore what this huge group of animals feeds on.

What are insects?

Deadliest animal in the world: tsetse flies
The tsetse fly lives in Africa in humid regions along the banks of rivers and lakes. They are about the size of a large housefly and feed only on blood.

Insects are classified within the kingdom Animalia and type Arthropods… Arthropods are invertebrates that have distinctive exoskeletons and segmented bodies. An invertebrate is an animal that does not have a vertebral column, unlike vertebrates, which have vertebrae like humans. An exoskeleton is a skeleton that is outside the body of an animal, not inside the body. Inside the phylum Arthropods, insects belong to the class Insect… It is not known exactly how many species of insects there are, but it is estimated at about 6 million! Some animals that are often mistaken for insects are spiders, snails and slugs, worms, millipedes, and millipedes.

What do herbivorous insects eat?

An imperial moth caterpillar (Saturnia pavonia) that feeds on blackberry leaves.
An imperial moth caterpillar (Saturnia pavonia) that feeds on blackberry leaves.

Most insects feed on plants, including stems, leaves, seeds, and flowers. Caterpillars are among the most famous herbivorous insects due to the large amount of leaves they consume. Caterpillars must eat massive amounts of leaves to prepare for the pupal stage and metamorphosis. The horned tobacco worm, for example, gains ten thousand times its weight in just 20 days!

In addition, as a result of the plant-based diet of many insects, coevolution has occurred in many species. Coevolution is when two or more species create selective pressures that affect each other’s evolution. An example of this is how many plants have developed chemical defense mechanisms to keep insects from eating them, and many insects have subsequently developed resistance to these chemical toxins.

There is also a very interesting relationship between insects and plants. Mutualism is when both parties benefit from a relationship. An example of a mutualistic relationship is the relationship between ants and acacia plants. Acacia plants provide shelter and protection for ants inside the plant’s thorns. Ants provide the acacia plant with protection from other herbivores. The ants also prune the leaves of other plants, blocking sunlight from the acacia.

Fruit-eating insects

Animal fear: sphexophobia
Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) sitting on a fruit

Fruit eaters are animals that eat fruits. There are many insects that eat fruits, including beetles, aphids, some butterflies, larvae, hornets, wasps, some flies, and others. These insects often feed on very ripe or rotting fruits. Fruit is an excellent source of carbohydrates and other insect nutrients.

While some may be beneficial, many of these insects are considered pests when found in gardens and large crops. As a result, the invention and use of insecticides has become widespread. Insecticides have led to increased agricultural productivity since the 20th century; however, they also had serious ramifications. Insecticides not only kill the target population but can also have a greater impact on the environment due to pollution and runoff. These chemicals are carried by runoff, such as rain or melted snow, and pollute large bodies of water, which can harm the ecosystem as a whole and people. Insecticides have also had significant negative impacts on pollinator populations and bird species that feed on insects.

What do predatory insects eat?

Apex predator: praying mantis
Found throughout the world in both temperate and tropical habitats, the mantis is known for its large triangular head, bulging eyes, and its ability to grab prey with its spiked forelegs.

Carnivorous insects are those that feed on meat. Some predatory insects eat other insects, some drink blood, and some eat carrion (decaying animal flesh). Praying mantises and dragonflies are the most famous insects that eat other insects. Dragonflies are almost exclusively carnivorous and usually eat butterflies, smaller dragonflies, midges, moths, and mosquitoes. Praying mantises eat smaller praying mantises and smaller vertebrates, including frogs, fish, and lizards. Female praying mantis are known to practice sexual cannibalism when they eat males trying to mate with them. After the female has eaten the male’s head, the male can still continue copulation. Another predatory insect is the Hawaiian caterpillar. These caterpillars use silk traps to catch slugs.

Common scavengers are 200 different species of scavenger beetles, blowflies, and blowfly larvae. Flies are a group of flies that lay larvae in decaying flesh or in open wounds of animals for food. Scavenger beetles are a whole family of beetles called Sylphs… These beetles feed on carrion in all stages of decay, including fresh, bloated, rotting, and dry. Calliphoridae, often referred to as blowflies, also feed on decaying animals. They have the ability to smell dead matter up to 2 miles away! Many insects also feed on blood, including flies and mosquitoes. Many of these blood-sucking insects also rely on plant nectar.

Insects, including butterflies, butterflies, and beetles, are very useful in forensic medicine. Forensic entomologists study the presence of various insects and other arthropods on corpses during criminal investigations. The presence of certain species at different stages of development provides important information about where and when the crime was committed.

Other food sources

Dung beetle (Scarabaeidae) - rolling dung with hind legs
Dung beetle rolls a lump of feces

Dung, animal faeces, is a common food source for many insects. Some dung beetles, called rolls, collect feces by rolling them into a large ball. They use this lump of manure both for food and as a breeding chamber. Other dung beetles, called tunnels, find the dung and bury it before returning to eat. Passing tunnels can bury manure up to 250 times its weight in one day. Some species of flies also feed on animal dung.

Environmental role

Mosquito (Culicidae)
The mosquito feeds on blood and can carry bloodborne pathogens.

Insects serve several purposes that are critical to the survival of the environment. Pollinators are incredibly important in maintaining plant life, which every other living organism relies on to one degree or another. The western honey bee is a key species due to its role as a pollinator. This means that if they die out, their ecosystems will be thrown out of balance and degraded. Other pollinators include butterflies, beetles that feed on pollen and nectar, pollen wasps and flies.

Many insects are also parasitic. Parasites are organisms that inhabit the host organism and harm it in one way or another. Because of this, the mosquito is one of the deadliest animals on the planet. Mosquitoes carry parasitic protists belonging to the genus Plasmodium. These parasites develop inside mosquitoes and are transmitted between hosts when the mosquito feeds on the animal’s blood. The parasite lives and reproduces in the animal’s red blood cells and causes malaria. Malaria has killed more people than any other disease in history and is responsible for at least half a million deaths a year.

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