Economic Importance (Beneficial and Harmful) of Insects

The abundance and presence of insects are ubiquitous. They have adapted to survive in all kinds of environments and feed on any substance with nutritional value. Though we have mostly labeled insects as pests but in parts of Asia, and Latin America, insects like ants, crickets, grasshoppers, etc, are essential food sources. The majority of insects dwell widely in warm and moist places but can also be found in extreme climates like the arctic woolly bear moth of arctic regions.

Insects make a crucial part of our ecosystem with important functions they carry out, such as pollination, soil aeration, and feeding on harmful pests hence regulating their growth. With these functional weapons, they make the perfect economic tool for the food, pharmaceutical, and agricultural industries. Let’s have a look at the commercial aspect of insects in our lives and how we benefit from them.

Ecological Importance of Insects

As we know the general function insects incorporate which includes soil aeration, pollination, and pest control, with the help of these tools and the products they make, humans have always been used insects for beneficiary purposes. 

  • Some insects act as scavengers, feeding on dead organic matter and recycling the nutrients into the environment via soil. Example – beetles.
  • Insects that act as decomposers help in the creation of soil top-layer with rich nutrient aiding in the growth of plants and other organisms.
  • Insects like ants, and beetles, dig tunnels in the soil which aids in the channelling of water, hence they are often referred to as burrowing bugs.
  • Plant pollinators including bees, wasps, ants, etc, help pollinate flowering plants to fertilize.
  • Pest controller insects like praying mantis pray upon certain harmful insects such as caterpillars, and aphids that feed on plants and block their growth.

Essential Insects Examples

  1. Butterflies – Pollinators of flowering and citrus plants, garden-friendly, and a good indicator of a healthy environment.
  2. Dragonflies – Natural pest controller of the environment and great indicator of clean aquatic systems.
  3. Grasshoppers – Rich in protein, hence used as a nutrient source by humans and as prey by birds.
  4. Ants – Soil aerators, and scavengers feeding on dead organic matter, hence helping in the recycling of nutrients.
  5. Honeybees – Great cross-pollinators, wild honey is widely commercialized as a nutrient-rich food source.

Economic Importance of Insects

They seemed to be of high importance to nature as well as to mankind. Hence, they and their products are commercially advertised for various purposes. For example, honey and honey wax from honeybees (Apis species) is cultured by humans, silk from silkworms is widely used to design and make beautiful clothes, good for maintaining body temperature and also good for skin, and many more uses.

Insects in the Food Industry

  • These edible insects are safe for human consumption.
  • They are rich in nutrients like protein, minerals, dietary fibers, riboflavin, and vitamins, serving as delicacies in some countries.
  • To increase the interest of consumers in markets, food industries have processed insects into food products such as flour, fitness bars, pasta, and snacks.
  • Some insects that are mass-produced for human consumption include crickets, locusts, houseflies, mealworms, ants, mantis, and many more.

Insects in the Pharmaceutical Industry

  • Antimicrobial peptides (AMP) like alloferons, defensin, etc are obtained from insects like ants and wasps which help in fighting against bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.
  • Insects like mealworms (Tenebrio molitor), leafworms (Spodoptera littoralis), silkworms (Bombyx mori), etc, have been observed to have “angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors” which are used in drugs for treating high blood pressure.
  • Silkworm cocoon formation proteins fibroin and sericin aid in lowering obesity by increasing fat metabolism, and also help in stimulating wound healing.
  • Insects produce antioxidant enzymes catalase (CAT), Peroxiredoxin (Prx), superoxide dismutase, etc, which are used in improving metabolism, and in food storage.
  • Chitin and chitosan from insects are rich in dietary fibre, used in baked goods, and also as flavours, and colouring agents.
  • Apitoxin and melittin from honeybees are seen to relieve pain, and swelling associated with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. ‘ApitoxR’, a drug that has been approved by FDA for use in relieving pain due to inflammation.
  • Cantharidin is a fatty acid extracted from beetles and is used as the treatment for cutaneous warts, and as the tumour-fighting substance that attacks infected cells.
  • And so many more substances extracted from insects have been benefitting mankind.

Insects in the Cosmetics

  • Carmine dye – It is a red-colored dye used in cosmetics and is obtained from the female insect Dactylopius coccus, native species of Mexico and South America.
  • Shellac is a resin obtained from lac insects, Laccifer lacca, and is widely used in nail polish remover, mascara, hair spray, eyeliner, etc.  They are found in the forest of Thailand and India.
  • Essential oils extracted from locusts, crickets, and spider flies have been shown to be safe for facial usage. A cosmetic product named ‘Point68’ contains insect oil which improves skin hydration, cellular healing, and rejuvenation.
  • Beeswax and honey have been used for centuries as cosmetics that soften, moisturize, and heal skin tissue. They are used in products like face wash, face scrub, lip balms, hair conditioners, and many more.
  • Sericin extracted from silkworms is used in creams and shampoos. They improve skin hydration and elasticity, leading to anti-wrinkle and anti-aging effects.

Insects in the Agriculture

18% of the world’s agricultural production is damaged by herbivorous insects like aphids. And farmers heavily rely on insect pollinators for the pollination of crops. Around 72% of the world’s crops depend on pollinator insects. So the two most important roles insects play in the enhanced quality and production of crops include pest control and pollination.

  • Pest control insects include ladybird beetles, lacewings, syrphid flies, and many more. They are economically important for crop production as they help control the pest population and keep the crops safe from their attack. 
  • Pollinator insects including bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, etc, ingest nectars from many flowers and hence pollinate the plants in return, aiding in the fertilization of plants. 
Economic Importance (Beneficial and Harmful) of Insects
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Harmful Insects

1- Paste of plants, fruits, and stores grains

Insects feed on several parts of green plants and crops, such as leaves, stems, buds, flowers, fruits, and seeds. Several stored products such as wool, feather, cigars, tools are also damaged by insects. Locusts move in swarms of several Kilometer long, when these swarms attack the crop damage the whole crop of fields of an area.

2- Household pests

Several insects are living in our house, and annoy ourselves, such as mosquitoes, bedbug, may suck our blood and disturb us. They live in our house as unwanted guests and destruct our household products, such as ants, cockroaches, termites, silverfish, spoil our food, damage our cloth and book, and wood of window and door. Cloth moth carpet beetle may destroy the carpets, furs, and feathers.

3- Injurious to domestic animals

Many insects affect domestic animals as parasites, some are ectoparasites such as fleas, lice, bugs, mosquitoes, and a few can live as endoparasites such as bolt-fly larvae in sheep. They irritate our domestic animals, such as bird lice feed upon feathers of chicken, causing irritation and loss of flesh. 

4- Disease carriers or an intermediate host of several pathogens

Several insects act as disease or n intermediate host of several pathogens and transfer disease from one pathogen to human to another, hence spread disease in population called as the vector of this particular disease. Some insects which act as vector and secondary host of the pathogen are described here.

a- Anopheles mosquitoes

Anopheles mosquitoes transfer malarian parasites “Plasmodium” from one human to another, if we can control the anopheles population we can control malaria.

b- Aedes mosquitoes

Spread yellow fever and dengue in the human population, means spread the viral fever. Dengue and yellow fever occur in high frequency where Aedes mosquitoes occur in large numbers.

c- Culex mosquitoes

Filariasis is spread by Culex mosquitoes. Culex acts as the intermediate host of filarian worms and transfers filarian worms from the infected human to healthy persons.

d- Tsetse fly (Glossina palpalis)

Tsetse fly spreads African sleeping sickness, acts as the intermediate host of Trypanosoma gambiense. Hence, spread sleeping sickness in the human population.

e- Sand fly (Phlebotomus)

Act as intermediate host of Leishmania donovani and spread kala-azar in human populations.

f- Housefly (Musca)

Spread food and water-borne disease in human populations, housefly cause contamination in food and water. By eating and drinking this food and water we can affect by diseases such as diarrhea, Cholera, etc.

Conclusion

Insects have proved highly useful in many industries like food, cosmetics, agriculture, etc., with a positive economic effect enhancing human livelihoods and economic growth. They are being accepted as a good alternative for nutrient-rich food sources. Substances like antimicrobial peptides, apitoxins, fatty acids, and enzymes derived from insects have shown beneficial prevention against infections, inflammation, and diseases like cancer. The cosmetic industry uses pigments, essential oils, fatty acids, etc., from insects in products like moisturizers, face wash, creams, shampoos, conditioners, hair spray, mascara, and many more. In agriculture, they have delivered their role as efficient natural pest controllers and pollinators, helping in improving crop production. All these amazing features of insects have made them economically important for our benefit.

References

  1. Economic Importance of Insects – https://www.biologydiscussion.com/invertebrate-zoology/insects/economic-importance-of-insects/27749
  2. Importance of Insects – https://flexbooks.ck12.org/cbook/ck-12-middle-school-life-science-2.0/section/9.18/primary/lesson/importance-of-insects-ms-ls/
  3. Economic Importance of Insects | Zoology – https://www.notesonzoology.com/insects/economic-importance/economic-importance-of-insects-zoology/13342
  4. Economic classification of insects – http://ecoursesonline.iasri.res.in/mod/page/view.php?id=12425
  5. McBride, Dean K., and Dennis D. Kopp. “Insects of economic importance.” (1979).
  6. Why insects are crucial for ecological balance – https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/wildlife-biodiversity/why-insects-are-crucial-for-ecological-balance-74968
  7. Insects as food – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insects_as_food
  8. Arthropods in Cosmetics, Pharmaceuticals and Medicine: A Review – https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/75778
  9. Jankielsohn, Astrid. “The importance of insects in agricultural ecosystems.” Advances in Entomology 6.2 (2018): 62-73.
  10. A Text-Book of Zoology Invertebrates by R.L. Kotpal, Tenth edition.
  11. https://pets-animals.blurtit.com/3751878/how-insects-are-used-to-produce-biological-products

About Author

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Nidhi Dewangan

Nidhi Dewangan has a bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Biochemistry from Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur (C.G.), India. She is the author of the Chapter “Commonly found Bacteria and Drug-Resistant Gene in Wastewater” in the book “Antimicrobial Resistance in Wastewater and Human Health” published by Elsevier, under the guidance of Dr. Awanish Kumar, Assistant Professor at the Department of Biotechnology, NIT Raipur. She’s also a University and a National player in Squash. She has represented her University and won team events in the All India University Squash Championships. Her research interest is genetics and computational biology.

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