- It’s surprising, but when I was little, I was afraid of insects…
- I understand. I had a phobia about spiders. And in Colombia, where I grew up, they’ve got some big ones!
Today, Carolina Torres and I, Marie-Ève André, are biologists and lovers of insects, spiders and millipedes! But what exactly happened to account for that turnaround?
Here are some answers.
Fear of insects is a widespread cultural phenomenon that can be explained in a number of ways. In many respects, insects are different from us and, frankly, a good number of them have funny heads. Their small size and their apparent strangeness contribute to our lack of understanding of them. On top of that, they surprise us sometimes when they go for a stroll on our thighs – or in our beds!
In fact, insects leave no one indifferent. For some, they evoke curiosity, for others, disgust, but we also marvel at the lightness of a butterfly’s flight and are moved by the briefness of their lives… All these emotions coexist in the same person. What a fertile breeding ground!
A wind of change
For Carolina and I, the change in perception was catalyzed by a mentor: a person passionate about insects who passed the torch to us. How? That mentor certainly had encyclopedic knowledge. He was enthusiastic, even tireless. But above all, he greeted our qualms in a kind and open way.
So much the better! The Insectarium’s facilitating team has that very mandate: transmitting their love for insects. And they do it so well that it’s not unusual to hear a visitor exclaim, “Wow! I’ll never see insects in the same way again!” That really happens!
In a survey carried out in 2022 with 633 participants, 57 percent of respondents had significantly changed their perception of insects following their visit to the Insectarium.1
And once you’ve been hooked, what do you do?
The vast (little) world of insects
When people discover an interest in insects, frequently they feel a certain dizziness. It’s normal. More than one million species have been identified in the world. In Québec we have about 25,000 species of insects and other terrestrial arthropods, like spiders.2 Where do you start, for learning more about them?
In my opinion, the first stage is to step outside and explore nature: the soil, flowers, trees. There are insects everywhere…for whoever really wants to see them!
Since its inauguration in the summer of 2022, guides have been accompanying visitors in the Pollinator Garden adjacent to the museum. Younger and older visitors alike appreciate the possibility of finally putting a name on the insects they share their world with. Music to my ears! Because naming an insect is equivalent to making its acquaintance. It’s the first step towards a more intimate relationship.
The unsustainable fragility…
Being introduced to the little creatures that surround us also means becoming aware of their immense value. Insects play essential roles in the operations of earthly ecosystems. With a dramatic decline in the populations of many insect groups being observed in different regions of the world,3 to love them is also to contemplate their fragility.
Together, let’s try to transform our passion into mobilization. Here are some concrete steps we can take to help them:
- Participate in community-science projects. For example, Mission Monarch and the Biodiversity Challenge are two useful programs for research and conservation.
- Laying out flower gardens offers a refuge to multiple species and adds to the connectivity among living environments. Of course, this means gardening without pesticides!
Reflecting on our consumption choices, prioritizing active transportation, sharing our love of insects with those around us, participating in the Insectarium’s celebrations of entomophilia – these are some other ways of telling insects we love them.
And so, step by step, we make our way towards a society more respectful of insects: a society that loves insects. We believe it’s happening.
1 Survey conducted between June 27 and August 29, 2022, as part of the Enquêtes estivales of the Société des musées du Québec.
2 NORMANDIN, Étienne.2020. Les insectes du Québec et autres arthropodes terrestres. Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 610 pp.
3 WAGNER, David L., GRAMES, Eliza M., FORISTER, Matthew L. & STOPAK, David. 2021. Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts. PNAS (118): 2.