Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

[insect buzzing noise]

Megan Hall: With spring approaching, we’re about to hear one of Earth’s most familiar sounds… 

[insect buzzing noise comes back louder]

Megan Hall: There are about 5.5 million different species of bugs and they make up nearly 80% of all animals on Earth. But all is not well with the world’s most abundant critters.  

[buzzing stop abruptly]

Megan Hall: What’s happening to insects? And why should we care?

Megan Hall: We had Luci Jones and Fatima Husain from our Possibly Team look into all the buzz. Welcome, Luci and Fatima! 

Luci Jones: Hi, Megan! 

Fatima Husain: Hello! 

Megan Hall: So, why are we talking about bugs today?

Luci Jones: Well, first, bugs are just really cool. 

Akito Kawahara: There are many insect fun facts. I don't know where to start. 

Fatima Husain: That’s Akito Kawahara, the curator of butterflies, moths, and insects at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He loves bugs. 

Akito Kawahara:

There's a caterpillar that can shoot poop the equivalent of about three-quarters of a football field. Honeybees when they locate a patch of flowers, they do something called a waggle dance. 

Luci Jones: Akito has loved bugs his entire life. As a kid growing up in Japan, he would play with beetles for fun or go looking for butterflies with his dad. He says that Japanese culture has a lot of respect for insects. 

Akito Kawahara: If you look at Japanese animation, too, right, there's a lot of insect related characters that appear. And that's partially because it's rooted in the culture.

Fatima Husain: But, Akito says insects aren’t just cool — they’re important. For him, the main benefits boil down to 5 Ps.

Akito Kawahara: They're pollinators, they’re prey, they’re physical decomposers. And they help progress, science, science and technology. And they also provide pleasure as well.

Luci Jones: Akito says insects can also help keep animal populations under control and make useful products like beeswax and silk.

Fatima Husain: They are also a great source of protein! People eat them in countries all over the world.

Luci Jones: The problem is, insects are dying off. One recent study suggests that we could lose up to 40% of all insect species in the next few decades. 

Fatima Husain: That prediction is a little controversial among scientists, but there’s no doubt insect numbers are going down at a scary rate. 

Megan Hall: Wow. What’s killing all of the bugs? 

Luci Jones: A lot of things. Obviously, insecticides are bad for insects. Conventional farms use a TON of them. That’s a lot of poison.

Fatima Husain: Just like other animals, insects are losing their habitat. And climate change is affecting their numbers as well. 

Megan: What would happen if we lost all of those insects?

Luci Jones: Akito says we might go hungry. 

Akito Kawahara: If you go to the grocery store, the majority of vegetables and food items that are in the produce section are insect pollinated.So imagine a world without insects, right? We're not gonna have any food.

Fatima Husain: And we won’t be the only ones in trouble. Remember, insects make up the majority of all animals on the planet. 

Luci Jones: If insect populations go down, so will the things that rely on them to live. 

Megan Hall: What can we do to prevent this from happening? 

Fatima Husain: In terms of protecting insects, organic farms are much better than conventional farms. So, you could buy organic foods. 

Luci Jones: And if you have a yard or balcony, grow some native plants. They create a great space for insects to live and grow as long as you don’t use insecticides. 

Fatima Husain: Akito says we can also reframe how we see bugs in the first place.

Akito Kawahara: Insects are beautiful, incredible organisms, and all we have to do is stop and just take a look. 

Luci Jones: So, the next time you see a bug think about how you can protect it, instead of swatting it away.

Megan Hall: Got it! Thanks, Luci and Fatima! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way you recycle, use energy, or make any other choice that affects the planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, the Climate Solutions Initiative and the Public’s Radio.