There are an estimated 20-30 million species of insects on the earth at present which is about 85% of all of the world's species. Many have not yet been given scientific names - in a good year taxonomists describe at most 2,000 species of insects,
meaning it will take 10,000 years to name 20 million species.
The 900,000 known insect species, which is three times as many as all other animal species together, are grouped in about 30 orders, depending upon the classification used. The largest
order is Coleoptera (beetles) followed by Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) and Hymenoptera (wasps, ants and bees.)
In the United
States, the number of described species is 11% of the global total.
Insects have the largest biomass of the terrestrial animals. At any time there are an estimated 10 quintillion individual insects alive. Recent figures indicate that there are
more than 200 million insects for each human on the planet and an article in The New York Times claimed that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans.
By comparison, only about 4,000 of the known animal species are mammals,
mankind being one of them. There are more species of dragonflies than mammals and almost as many species of cockroaches, 9,000 species of birds and almost twice as many species of butterflies.
In Pennsylvania the number of individual insects in a given
area is estimated at 425 million insects per acre. We steps on thousands of insects every time we walk outdoors. Researchers found that in an oak forest the number of arthropods* in leaf litter averages 9,759 per square foot. Based on these counts there are
more than 425 million soil and litter arthropods per acre in our state.
Nor are they confined to the soil. The number of insects floating and flying through the air is phenomenal. P. A. Glick calculated that a cubic mile of air, starting
50 feet above the ground, contains an average of 25 million insects and other arthropods.
As one wag observed, “If God loves anything (S)he loves insects!”
There are about 20 000 species of bees across the globe, of which 900 are
found in North America. In the harsher northern climes most insects die in the fall, leaving either a queen or eggs to continue the species in the spring. Honey bees however, although they originated in the warmth of the tropics, have learned
to survive the winter by clustering around stored food sources, maintaining a steady temperature by vibrating their thorax muscles. This gives them a significant advantage in that fully developed adults emerge in the spring ready to take advantage of
the first pollen and nectar sources.
I too cluster over winter, not so much physically as mentally. As Gunther Hauk described so beautifully, “(Winter) is a time to go inward, to study, reflect and contemplate, deepening
our understanding of the Earth's wonders and our mission on it. This inwardness, trained and practiced at mid-winter's beckoning, will show its harvest in the months to come, when outward activity challenges our strengthened will, our heightened understanding.”
Strength comes in the quietness and the stillness, light is found in the darkness, renewal is nurtured in the tranquility and energy is stored ready to explode (like the bees) in the spring. It is a time to reflect back, to plan ahead and to begin
to access those myriad of ideas that have yet to be named and described.
*Arthropods, which make up the overwhelming majority of insects, are defined by an exoskeleton, a body divided into distinct parts, jointed legs and appendages,
and bilateral symmetry.