Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Of Beetles and Bears: Considering the Little Guys

     We mentioned in the last discussion section how only large charismatic animals, like pandas, get conservation attention while smaller "uglier" animals are generally ignored. This is true, and considering the composition of life on Earth, outright harmful.
     Looking at the 1.3 million species of life identified, large charismatic mammals are unimpressive in their numeric form. Of the mere 1% of all species that are vertebrates, about 5,500 are mammals - that's only 0.4% of species. And within that tiny fraction mammal group, 70% of species are of the orders Rodentia, Chiroptera, and Soricomorpha - your rodents, bats, and shrews, respectively. Yet it's the bears, elephants, wolves, tigers and so on that dominate media.
      Invertebrate animals, on the other hand, make up over 80% of known species - insects by themselves total to around 60% of all. Indeed, if any single group of animals deserves to be crowned victor in the species race, it's the humble beetle, species of which make up about 25% of animal life on Earth. You read that right - a whopping quarter of all animal species are beetles. And of ALL species, animal or otherwise? 20% are beetles. And yet hardly anyone would think the beetle as worthy of more than a shoe stomp while gushing over panda bears.
     This attitude toward invertebrate life puts it at risk. While we desperately try to save pandas from extinction, we ignore the loss of vast arrays of beetles that are vital in keeping their ecosystems functioning. It's too bad for them as well as for us that we find them so unappealing. So next time you haphazardly step on a beetle, remember that it represents a fifth of all life on Earth while you can hardly claim a fraction of a fraction of a percent.

Invertebrates are ignored, overlooked by conservationists, policymakers and the public
Mass Extinction of Insects May Be Occurring Undetected

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