The Purpose of Minor Beings in Our Ecosystem


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times)With New Year round the corner let us make a resolution to understand the rest of the world. We may not like them but let’s resolve not to hate them. And lets start by taking the least lovable beings on it – Mosquitoes, Fleas, Lizards, Flies, Cockroaches, Ticks and Spiders.

Most people think that mosquitoes were invented a)To keep us indoors at night b)To make us build up our biceps c) To make us appreciate lizards and spiders.

Mosquitoes are good for more than just giving you that itchy bump. Fish eat mosquito larvae, and birds and bats eat them when they are adults. They feed shorebirds, amphibians, reptiles, dragonflies. Various carnivores eat those animals, which you, in turn, eat. If mosquitoes were to be eradicated this would throw the whole system out of order. Mosquitoes pollinate more than 30 species of plants, specially those in swampy areas like orchids. Their main diet is plant nectar. The birds that prey on mosquitoes supplement their diets with wild berries and seeds, spreading them as they go.So, the more mosquitoes, the more birds, and therefore more berries.

Mosquitoes eat algae and bacteria. They eat aphid excrement which is the sticky stuff that covers many trees and would make a world a sticky place if mosquitoes weren't cleaning it up.

I think God created them to stop wars and leave parts of the world in peace. Historically, mosquitoes have shaped the world’s nations. The wars declared by Napoleon, Alexander, the Nazis and other world beaters were strongly influenced by mosquitoes. Their presence has kept people from wanting to live in some areas, leaving these places as refuges for wild plants and animals.

What purpose do fleas serve ? a)To make you happy to be bald ? b)to busy us scratching when we have nothing else to do c) To make us realize what it feels like to be dinner d) to give tapeworms a god to pray to as well ?

They help dead things rot and enrich the soil. Flea larvae emerge from the eggs to feed on any available organic material such as dead insects, feces, and vegetable matter.

If you really want to stretch their value to us : they tell us when a rabbit is about to give birth ! Adult female fleas can detect the changing levels of hormones in the rabbit's blood that indicate she is getting close to giving birth. This triggers sexual maturity in the fleas and they start producing eggs. Then they stop for a bit and start again every time she gives birth. I suppose this information must be important to someone !! What about this - Fleas have the same sleep cycles as their hosts .Research is on to investigate human sleep disorders, and the flea may turn out to help in the advancement of this knowledge.

How about ticks ? This is going to be a stretch for me because I confront them all the time. However I am told that scientists use ticks as an indicator of an ecosystem's health. Because ticks rely on a variety of host animals (mice, rats, deer, etc.) to thrive and reproduce, ecologists study tick population, distribution and health to understand ecological trends better.

For example, if an ecologist finds that tick populations have dropped considerably in a specific area for more than the past 10 years, he would also expect to find a drop in the population or health of available host species, indicating a deteriorating ecosystem. In contrast, when an ecologist finds tick populations on the rise, it suggests that healthier host species are available, indicating a healthy ecosystem.

In themselves they are a food of birds which will often pick them right off the body of host animals. Predatory insects like spiders and parasitic wasps eat them.

What role do they play in nature, and what would happen if there were no ticks? Here is a view from Jan Weaver, MU Environmental Network on the role of parasites in animal communities. “Ticks serve to maintain biodiversity . Ticks may rarely kill the animals they feed on, but they weaken them and make them more vulnerable to predators. Therefore ticks may act as a brake on runaway population growth in host populations. The hosts do not increase beyond a point and this is beneficial to other species that share the same food as the host. It probably helps predators too because if the host population exploded and then crashed from starvation, the predators would be left with nothing to eat and they would starve as well. So, ticks, although irritating, may play an important role in maintaining steady levels of their host populations and therefore of the plants and animals that interact with the hosts. If we turn around and apply that same criterion of usefulness to humans, we clearly lag far behind ticks."

Cockroaches are really important for our survival. They are food for wasps, centipedes, birds, bats, frogs, snakes and lizards .They eat smaller insects. Being scavengers, they decompose and recycle the organic litter left behind by larger animals which would otherwise pile up and choke water or plants. This also puts nutrients that plants need back into the soil.

I find lizards Mama’s little helpers. They feed on mosquitoes, flies, rodents and other insects. Strangely enough they take the place of birds and bees in being responsible for pollination and seed dispersal on islands.

Spiders pollinate plants. They help recycle dead trees and animals back into the earth. They are a vital source of food for birds, fish, and small mammals. Adult mosquitoes are important food for spiders. The weight of insects eaten by spiders every year is greater than the total weight of the entire human population. One day we will learn how to use spider silk , which is twice as strong as steel and elastic- the toughest material known.

Flies eat decaying matter, even feces, helping in the breakdown of waste to become nutrients in the soil. Flies and their larvae are also an important food source for frogs and spiders, birds, reptiles, and insects. They even help solve murder cases ! The quantity and type of maggots and flies in a decomposing corpse can help the forensic department estimate the time of death. Maggots eat dead flesh so they are used medically to heal septic wounds more effectively than conventional methods.

It's not fair to say living things are "good" or "bad." All of us are what we are, doing what we need to do to survive. If pests make life miserable for us, does that make them "bad"? Ask all the birds, bats, frogs, fish, moles, and other animals that eat them. They'd say, "No, they're good!"

There are thousands of different beings keeping the earth alive. I don’t know why they are there but I will be dead long before the scientists discover what my appendix is good for.

Shift your perception to tolerance. Instead of seeing every interaction as a trespass that requires a retaliation of toxic force why not embrace these encounters as an opportunity to look at the most amazing animals on the planet. These animals have been round much longer than us and they have learnt to adapt to us. Why not use our big brains to adapt to them? Happy New Year !

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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