Teach them to love the insects’

When the Dalai Lama was asked the most important thing to teach children, his response was (reportedly) “teach them to love the insects”.

It’s not uncommon to fear or loathe insects and “creepy crawlies”. It’s not an instinctive thing; rather learned behavior in many cases. Just as beauty among humans is often perceived based on what society dictates rather than the eye of the beholder, so to is it in regard to other creatures on our planet. Our views may also be shaped through limited experiences with a species.

I remember seeing an experiment many years ago where a harmless spider was placed in the presence of a mother and very young child. When the mother didn’t react, neither did the child – he had no fear of the creature. However, when the same mother then expressed fear and disgust, it had a marked affect on the child; and continued to do so in experiments that followed.

(Trivia – a spider is not an insect, it’s an arachnid; but anyhow).

When I was young, a friend told me that dragonflies drop acid “bombs” from their tails. I believed him and it took me years to get over my irrational fear of dragonflies. These days I smile whenever I see one, thinking back to how silly my fear was.

We often see insects as little more than biological robots, pests or even monsters – incapable of real thought or emotion. However, the concept of insects not experiencing emotion is being challenged. Some species may indeed be sentient beings.
Regardless of whether they have feelings or not, insects are an incredibly important part of our planet. They are a food source, they are pollinators (and not just bees), soil aerators, disposers of waste, control other pests and provide fertilizer.

In order to “love the insects”, there has to be understanding and interest. Too often we are blind to these creatures; crushing them underfoot without a second thought; not grasping how incredibly intricate and refined they are.
We need to be able to marvel at the extraordinary strength of the ant, which can lift and carry fifty times its own weight; or the dragonfly that can zip along at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. We should be in awe of the froghopper – when it jumps, it accelerates at 13,000 ft per second and endures a G-force over 400 times its own body weight.
Whether common or exotic, “ugly” or “beautiful”, all insects have fascinating aspects.
Yes, insects can be poisonous or cause other problems, so we need to eradicate them in some scenarios. Even the Dalai Lama has a “three strikes and you’re out” policy with mosquitoes.
But bear in mind everything has its place. A termite colony chomping away at your home isn’t the same as termite colony out in the forest. It’s not a problem there, it’s an integral part of that ecosystem – and only 10 percent of the 2,750 known termite species are “pests”.

Mention the word “cockroach” and many people will screw their nose up in disgust – but it’s a similar situation there where a comparative handful of species have given the entire cockroach world a bad name. Only around 30 species out of 4500 are associated with human habitations.

A honeybee is not hell-bent on stinging you – it’s far too busy going about its work and aside from the fact bees aren’t generally aggressive except in specific circumstances; if a honeybee stings you, it dies.

To cultivate an interest in and respect for insects is easy. Think about the insects around your own yard and run a search on the species. You may be amazed at what you discover. Learning more about these creatures can also alter the way you deal with some insect problems you experience. 

Don’t forget to tell your children what you discover so they may also learn to “love the insects”.