People rely on insects to survive because of their complex roles in the ecosystem. But scientists are learning that even insects may have some form of consciousness, emotions, awareness, and even personalities. Yes, we have arrived at a time when scientists are considering “insect consciousness,” as a global insect apocalypse is underway.
Who knew that bumblebees play with toys, for example? Scientists found these bees enjoy rolling colorful wooden balls, fulfilling the criteria for animal play. The bees seem to enjoy playing even though they get no reward for the behavior. Younger bees tended to play more.
It suggests a bumblebee’s mind is “more complex than we previously thought,” reported the BBC (see video below).
See the video by the BBC below:
Insect Consciousness and AI
Since insects can’t talk, it is tricky to know if they have a form of consciousness, but we have intuition about it. If people trusted their intuition more, then doctors wouldn’t have thought that human babies didn’t feel pain until the 80s, as Discover pointed out. Fortunately, a change in belief by doctors meant anesthesia was used for surgery afterward.
Critics tend to disregard intuitional insights into animals as anthropomorphism. But now, scientists are beginning to use artificial intelligence to decode animal language. Popular Mechanics reported on the Earth Species Project (ESP), which seeks to decode non-human communication to “transform our relationship with nature.” The project will focus on birds, dolphins, primates, elephants, and honeybees.
Soon, we may know in a scientific way what bees are saying. That information could be critical as insects are vanishing. They account for 80% of animal life on Earth, but at least 40% of all insect species are on the decline.
A Human Change in Perspective on Bugs
Entomologist Jessica Ware, an associate curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the latest discussions about insect consciousness mean we may have reached the point when we no longer look at “what it means to be conscious from an anthropocentric view.”
One might say that means our view of consciousness has changed, not the insects’. In that way, we’re experiencing a sort of global “ego death” as we see nature more accurately. That significant change could be critical, as it turns out.
A World Without Insects
What would the world look like if all the insects vanished? The entomologist tells Discover she believes humans will be gone in three months without them.
“In the absence of bugs, we will all die,” Ware said. “In fact, we probably wouldn’t last more than three months.”
According to Business Insider, without insects, we would soon find ourselves “starving to death while drowning in a sea of poop and corpses.”
Ware grew up exploring nature and developing a fascination with dragonflies and other insects. You can see her discuss dragonflies, dubbed “climate canaries,” as they relocate due to climate change.
A New Massive Insectarium
Today, in New York’s American Museum of Natural History, she and other experts are hoping to raise awareness about the importance of insects with a beautiful Insectarium. The Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium, opening February 2023, will be a permanent exhibit, including 10,000 dragonflies from her own personal collection.
The museum’s “cavernous” expansion will include New York City bugs, football-sized honeybee sculptures, and a vivarium with real butterflies. Hopefully, people will begin to see insects differently, inspiring actions to slow the population’s dramatic decline worldwide. The museum will feature classrooms and the largest free-standing natural history library in the western hemisphere.
Below, you can see more about the Extinct and Endangered: Insects in Peril exhibit, which is now open.
“Understanding the history of Earth, is understanding the history of insects,” Ware says.
Before the birds, bats, or even flowering plants, there were flying insects 400,000 million years ago.
“There was nothing in the sky until insects,” Ware said.
Video by American Museum of Natural History:
Awareness of Insects and All of Nature
Recently, scientific research has been piling up to suggest that, yes, animals, in general, are aware and more species are being acknowledged as sentient beings. You may have heard that the UK recognized lobsters, crabs, squid, octopuses, and related species as sentient under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.
For another example, over 65 species display a form of laughter. Recent research suggests that even fungi are capable of language. One scientist claims to have discovered a form of fungi vocabulary of up to 50 words.
“The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that these spikes often clustered into trains of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words and that the distribution of these ‘fungal word lengths’ closely matched those of human languages,” reported The Guardian.
Other research has shown how trees and coral communicate, including with sound. The mycorrhizal fungus networks along ancient tree roots are among Earth’s most important communication systems. Perhaps instead of spying on each other from the skies, we should be focusing more on flying insects and the natural world.
Featured image of bee created with DALL·E2