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November 11, 2015
It seems like just yesterday that we were heading down to the shore, hosting backyard barbecues, and wearing shorts and flip flops. But, believe it or not, it’s November, which means that Thanksgiving is just a few days away. What better way to celebrate the imminence of gorging ourselves on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the other Thanksgiving fare, than by learning about what our insect counterparts delight in eating.
Insects, like most other classes of animals, vary extensively in what they consume. There are herbivores, carnivores, parasites, and scavengers. There are insects that chow down on wood and others that suck up nectar from plants. There’s even a whole family of insects that survives by eating waste. There are so many different species of insects in the world, and each one may eat something completely different.
Check out our list below to learn more about the delicacies of the insect world.
Many insects in the world survive by consuming plant tissues or plant products. This classification applies to insects like grasshoppers and ladybugs that chew leaves; aphids and spider mites that suck sap; and bees and butterflies that collect pollen, nectar, or plant resins.
The effects on plants vary between plant types and insects. Some of the more polyphagous insects – those that can combat wide-ranging plant defense mechanisms to feed on a variety of greens – will consume every part of their plant host. Others, like bees and hornets, benefit the plants by acting as pollinators.
Like all natural ecosystems, the insect world has its predators and its prey. Unfortunately for some smaller insects, they serve as the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners of certain other insects. Dragonflies, hornets, and other predatory insects use some clever tricks to capture their prey, including setting bait and mimicking natural vibrations. When all else fails, they go Darwinian and flat-out overpower their helpless victims.
One predatory insect, in particular, deserves its own shout-out. The praying mantis is the perfect ambush hunter, standing still and camouflaged until a smaller insect gets close. They then capture their prey with a lightning-quick attack and start feeding. Praying mantises, aside from eating insects, have also been known to capture and devour spiders, lizards, small snakes, and even birds.
A downright despicable bunch, parasitic insects do warm-blooded animals no favors. Feasting off of the blood of almost any mammal, insects like lice, bed bugs, and fleas are a real nuisance. In fact, certain blood-feeding insects can drink up to seven times their body weight in blood – which would be the equivalent of an average-sized man drinking 120 gallons of liquid.
Other flesh eaters and blood suckers include disease-carrying ticks, universally despised mosquitoes, and flesh-eating skin beetles. We suggest wearing long sleeves and checking your skin regularly when working in brush or walking through woods.
You might want to put down your snack for this section. Many insects in the Animal Kingdom serve a very important, yet mildly disturbing, purpose. Carrion insects feast on the decaying remains of plants and other animals ranging from insects and spiders to humans and large mammals. It’s a natural part of every ecosystem’s lifecycle, and somebody’s gotta do it.
These carrion insects include flies, maggots, and beetles, and they’ll eat anything from week old rotten fruit to freshly dead wildlife.
In conclusion, insects gorge on all sorts of things, some of which are incredibly gross. So this Thanksgiving, if the gravy has one too many lumps for your taste, you can be thankful that you’re not a carrion insect. Think about what they have to eat!