Is a deadly caterpillar the secret for saving lives? Species: Giant silkworm moth Lonomia obliqua. Location: Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. Photos by Anuska Nardelli.
We can credit many of our daily pleasures to the work of insects. Whether pollination of crops or the sweet taste of honey, insect services are everywhere in our societies. We grow up to love the enchanting twinkle of fireflies, to worry about the decline of honeybees, and to admire the beauty of butterflies’ wings. Such beauty makes us forget that when they are young, bees and butterflies – like the majority of insects including flies and beetles – are larvae, which are often seen as dirty and disgusting nuisances. These are not honourable adjectives to be remembered for. But this impression could not be farther from the truth.
Insect larvae – and only insect larvae – can provide many services to humanity without which our societies would be uncertain and dull. Doubt it? Imagine it is late afternoon and you are hungry but have nothing to eat in the fridge. You cannot sleep hungry and you decide to drive to the closest store to buy dinner. You take your plastic bag, get in the car, and drive to and from the store. Dinner gives you stomachache, so you take medicines and go to bed. You put a nice story on the podcast and listen until you fall asleep. What if I tell you that in the future, you may depend on insect larvae services at every step of this routine?
In this paper, I discuss the unappreciated contributions of insect larvae services which can drive the progress of our societies. I discuss how larvae can literally eat plastic, providing a new way to mitigate global plastic pollution. I show how larvae can recycle food and ‘poop’ to produce sustainable biofuel that might power our planes in the future. I also show that the larvae of some insects produce toxins, which scientists are now studying as potential medicines for treatment of diseases. Lastly, I present an ancient story from Aboriginal societies which features insect larvae as the comforting link between a father and his lost son.