Insects and culture

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The "Spanish Fly", Lytta vesicatoria has been considered to have medicinal, aphrodisiac, and other properties. It contains an irritant chemical, cantharidin, which is certainly toxic.

Insects and culture includes all aspects of the relationships between insects and humans, such as their use as food (entomophagy), in medicine, in art, in music, in religion, and in mythology. Some of these aspects have variously been labelled Cultural entomology, dealing mostly with "advanced" societies, and Ethnoentomology, dealing mostly with "primitive" societies, though the distinction is weak and not based on theory. It explores the parallels, connections and influence of insects on human populations, and vice versa. It is rooted in anthropology and natural history, as well as entomology, the study of insects.


Cultural entomology and ethnoentomology

Ethnoentomology developed from the 19th century with early works by authors such as Alfred Russel Wallace (1852) and Henry Walter Bates (1862). Hans Zinsser's "classic" Rats, Lice and History (1935) showed that insects were an important force in human history. Writers like William Morton Wheeler, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Jean Henri Fabre described insect life and communicated their meaning to people "with imagination and brilliance". Frederick Simon Bodenheimer's Insects as Human Food (1951) drew attention to the scope and potential of entomophagy, and showed a positive aspect of insects. Food is the most studied topic in ethnoentomology, followed by medicine and beekeeping.[1]

In 1968, E. Schimitschek claimed cultural entomology as a branch of insect studies, in a review of the roles insects played in folklore and culture including religion, food, medicine and the arts.[2] In 1984, Charles Hogue covered the field in English and from 1994–1997, Hogue's The Cultural Entomology Digest served as a forum on the field.[3][4] Hogue explained that "Humans spend their intellectual energies in three basic areas of activity: surviving, using practical learning (the application of technology); seeking pure knowledge through inductive mental processes (science); and pursuing enlightenment to taste a pleasure by aesthetic exercises that may be referred to as the "humanities." Entomology has long been concerned with survival (economic or applied entomology) and scientific study (academic entomology), but the branch of investigation that addresses the influence of insects (and other terrestrial Arthropoda, including arachnids and myriapods) in literature, language, music, the arts, interpretive history, religion, and recreation has only become recognized as a distinct field through Schimitschek's work.[2][5][6] Hogue limited the field by saying: "The narrative history of the science of entomology is not part of cultural entomology, while the influence of insects on general history would be considered cultural entomology."[7] He added: "Because the term "cultural" is narrowly defined, some aspects normally included in studies of human societies are excluded."[7]

Darrell Addison Posey, noting that the boundary between cultural entomology and ethnoentomology is difficult to draw, cites Hogue as limiting cultural entomology to the influence of insects on "the essence of humanity as expressed in the arts and humanities". Posey notes further that cultural anthropology is usually restricted to the study of "advanced", industrialised, and literate societies, whereas ethnoentomology studies "the entomological concerns of 'primitive' or 'noncivilized' societies". Posey states at once that the division is artificial, complete with an unjustified us/them bias.[1] Brian Morris similarly criticises the way that anthropologists treat non-Western attitudes to nature as monadic and spiritualist, and contrast this "in gnostic fashion" with a simplistic treatment of Western, often 17th century, mechanistic attitude. Morris considers this "quite unhelpful, if not misleading", and offers instead his own research into the multiple ways that the people of Malawi relate to insects and other animals: "pragmatic, intellectual, realist, practical, aesthetic, symbolic and sacramental."[8]

Insect ecosystem services

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) report 2005 defines ecosystem services as benefits people obtain from ecosystems, and distinguishes four categories, namely provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. A fundamental tenet is that a few species pf arthropod are well understood for their influence on humans (such as honeybees, ants, mosquitoes, and spiders). However, insects offer ecological goods and services. The Xerces Society calculates the economic impact of four ecological services rendered by insects: pollination, recreation (i.e. "the importance of bugs to hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation, including bird-watching"), dung burial, and pest control. The value has been estimated in the United States at $57 billion.[9] As the ant expert E. O. Wilson observed: "If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos."[10] A Nova (TV Series) segment on the American Public Broadcasting Service framed the relationship with insects in an urban context: "We humans like to think that we run the world. But even in the heart of our great cities, a rival superpower thrives . . . These tiny creatures live all around us in vast numbers, though we hardly even notice them. But in many ways, it is they who really run the show.[11] The Washington Post stated: "We are flying blind in many aspects of preserving the environment, and that's why we are so surprised when a species like the honeybee starts to crash, or an insect we don't want, the Asian tiger mosquito or the fire ant, appears in our midst. In other words: Start thinking about the bugs."[12]

Attitudes to insects

Steven Kellert classified public attitudes towards insects by 9 primary interests, namely aesthetic, humanistic, moralistic, naturalistic, dominionistic, ecologistic, negativistic, utilitarian, and scientific.[13]

Human attitudes toward insects are often negative, reinforced by sensationalism in the media. This has produced a society that attempts to eliminate insects from daily life.[14] Nearly 75 million pounds of broad-spectrum insecticides are manufactured and sold each year for use in American homes and gardens. Annual revenues from insecticide sales to homeowners exceeded $450 million in 2004. Out of the roughly a million species of insects described so far, not more than 1,000 (about 1/10 of 1%) can be regarded as serious pests, and less than 10,000 (about 1%) are even occasional or sporadic pests.[14] Yet not one species of insect has been permanently eradicated through the use of pesticides. Instead, at least 1,000 species have developed field resistance to pesticides.[15]

Insects as food

Entomophagy refers to the eating of insects. Many insects are considered a culinary delicacy in some societies around the world, and Frederick Simon Bodenheimer's Insects as Human Food (1951) drew attention to the scope and potential of entomophagy, but the practice is uncommon and even taboo in other societies. Sometimes insects are considered suitable only for the poor in the third world, but in 1975 Victor Meyer-Rochow suggested that insects could help ease global future food shortages and advocated a change in western attitudes towards cultures in which insects were appreciated as a food item.[16] P.J. Gullan and P.S. Cranston felt that the remedy for this may be marketing of insect dishes as suitably exotic and costly to make them acceptable. They also note that some societies in sub-Saharan Africa prefer caterpillars to beef, while Chakravorty et al. (2011) [17] point out that food insects (highly appreciated in North-East India) are more expensive than meat. The economics, i.e., the costs involved collecting food insects and the money earned through the sale of such insects, have been studied in a Laotian setting by Meyer-Rochow et al. (2008).[18] In Mexico, ant larvae and Corixid water boatman eggs are sought out as a form of caviar by gastronomes. In Guangdong, water beetles fetch a high enough price for these insects to be farmed. Especially high prices are fetched in Thailand for the giant water bug Lethocerus indicus.[19]

Insects used in food include caterpillars, silkworms, Maguey worms, Witchetty grubs & other beetle and moth larvae; crickets, grasshoppers & locusts; and arachnids, such as spiders & scorpions. They can be eaten on their own or mixed with other ingredients, as with casu marzu.

In medicine

File:Eciton burchellii Illustration.png
Army ants were used by the Mayans as living sutures, their powerful jaws holding a wound closed.

Insects have been used medicinally in cultures around the world, often according to the Doctrine of Signatures. Thus, the femurs of grasshoppers, which were said to resemble the human liver, were used to treat liver ailments by the indigenous peoples of Mexico.[20] The doctrine was applied in both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and in Ayurveda. TCM uses arthropods for various purposes; for example, centipede is used to treat tetanus, seizures, and convulsions,[21] while the Chinese Black Mountain Ant, Polyrhachis Vicina, is used as a cure all, especially by the elderly, and extracts have been examined as a possible anti-cancer agent.[22] Ayurveda uses insects such as Termite for conditions such as ulcers, rheumatic diseases, anaemia, and pain. The Jatropha leaf miner's larvae are used boiled to induce lactation, reduce fever, and soothe the gastrointestinal tract.[17][23] In contrast, the traditional insect medicine of Africa is local and unformalised.[23] The indigenous peoples of Central America used a wide variety of insects medicinally. Mayans used Army ant soldiers as living sutures.[20] The venom of the Red harvester ant was used to cure rheumatism, arthritis, and polimyelitis via the immunological reaction produced by its sting.[20] Boiled silkworm pupae were taken to treat apoplexy, aphasy, bronchitis, pneumonia, convulsions, hemorrhages, and frequent urination.[20]

Honey bee products are used medicinally in apitherapy across Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Americas, despite the fact that the honey bee was not introduced to the Americas until the colonization by Spain and Portugal. They are by far the most common medical insect product both historically and currently, and the most frequently referenced of these is honey.[23] It can be applied to skin to treat excessive scar tissue, rashes, and burns,[24] and as an eye poultice to treat infection.[17] Honey is taken for digestive problems and as a general health restorative. It is taken hot to treat head colds, cough, throat infections, laryngitis, tuberculosis, and lung diseases.[20] Apitoxin (honey bee venom) is applied via direct stings to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, polyneuritis, and asthma.[20] Propolis, a resinous, waxy mixture collected by honeybees and used as a hive insulator and sealant, is often consumed by menopausal women because of its high hormone content, and it is said to have antibiotic, anesthetic, and anti-inflammatory properties.[20] Royal jelly is used to treat anemia, gastrointestinal ulcers, arteriosclerosis, hypo- and hypertension, and inhibition of sexual libido.[20] Finally Bee bread, or bee pollen, is eaten as a generally health restorative, and is said to help treat both internal and external infections.[20] One of the major peptides in bee venom, Melittin, has the potential to treat inflammation in sufferers of Rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple sclerosis.[25]

The rise of antibiotic resistant infections has sparked pharmaceutical research for new resources, including into arthropods.[26]

Maggot therapy uses blowfly larvae to perform wound-cleaning debridement.[27] They secrete allantoin, which is used to treat the infectious bone disease, Osteomyelitis.

Cantharidin, the blister-causing oil found in several families of beetles described by the vague common name Spanish fly, was accepted by the FDA in 2004 as treatment for warts and other skin problems. It was in Ancient Greece and Rome, and has been used as an aphrodisiac in some societies. Recent studies in cell culture and animal models have demonstrated its powerful tumor-fighting properties.[25]

Blood-feeding insects like ticks, horseflies, and mosquitoes inject multiple bioactive compounds into their prey. These insects have long been used by practitioners of Eastern Medicine to prevent blood clot formation or thrombosis, suggesting possible applications in scientific medicine.[28] Over 1280 protein families have been associated with the saliva of blood feeding organisms, including inhibitors of platelet aggregation, ADP, arachidonic acid, thrombin, and PAF, anticoagulants, vasodilators, vasoconstrictors, antihistamines, sodium channel blockers, complement inhibitors, pore formers, inhibitors of angiogenesis, anaesthetics, AMPs and microbial pattern recognition molecules, and parasite enhancers/activators.[25][29][30][31] Ixolaris, a tissue factor inhibitor has been shown to block primary tumour growth and angiogenesis in a glioblastoma model.[32]

Arachnids have been used in traditional medicine, and their venom has been studied for bioactive factors. In 1993 Margatoxin was synthesized from the venom of the Central American bark scorpion, Centruroides margaritatus. This peptide selectively inhibits voltage-gated potassium channels. Patented by Merck, it has the potential to prevent neointimal hyperplasia, a common cause of bypass graft failure.[33]

In mythology

Gold plaques embossed with winged bee goddesses, perhaps the Thriai, found at Camiros Rhodes, dated to the 7th century B.C.

Insects have appeared in mythology around the world from ancient times. Among the insect groups featuring in myths are the bee, butterfly, cicada, dragonfly, praying mantis and scarab beetle.[19]

In religious practices

In the Brazilian Amazon, members of the Tupí–Guaraní language family have been observed using Pachycondyla commutata ants during female rite-of-passage ceremonies, and prescribing the sting of Pseudomyrmex spp. for fevers and headaches.[34]

The red harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus has been widely used by natives of Southern California and Northern Mexico for hundreds of years in ceremonies conducted to help tribe members acquire spirit helpers through hallucination. During the ritual, young men are sent away from the tribe and consume large quantities of live, unmasticated ants under the supervision of an elderly member of the tribe. Ingestion of ants should lead to a prolonged state of unconsciousness, where dream helpers appear and serve as allies to the dreamer for the rest of his life.[35]

In biomimicry

File:Stenocara gracilipes.jpg
The Namib desert beetle, Stenocara gracilipes, channels water from fog down its wings.

Insect attributes are sometimes mimicked in architecture, as at the Eastgate Centre, Harare, which uses passive cooling, storing heat in the morning and releasing it in the warm parts of the day.[36] The target of this piece of biomimicry is the structure of the mounds of termites such as Macrotermes michaelseni which effectively cool the nests of these social insects.[37][38]

The properties of the Namib desert beetle's exoskeleton, in particular its wing-cases (elytra) which have bumps with hydrophilic (water-attracting) tips and hydrophobic (water-shedding) sides, have been mimicked in a film coating designed for the British Ministry of Defence, to capture water in arid regions.[39][40]

In art

File:Radha and Krishna in Rasamanjari by Bhanudatta, Basohli, c1670.jpg
Radha and Krishna in Rasamanjari by Bhanudatta, Basohli, ca. 1670. Opaque watercolour and gold on paper, with applied beetlewing fragments

Both the symbolic form and the actual body of insects have been used to adorn humans in ancient and modern times. A recurrent theme for ancient cultures in Europe and the Near East regarded the sacred image of a bee or human with insect features. Often referred to as the bee "goddess", these images were found in gems and stones. An onyx gem from Knossos (ancient Crete) dating to approximately 1500 BC illustrates a Bee goddess with bull horns above her head. In this instance, the figure is surrounded by dogs with wings, most likely representing Hecate and Artemis - gods of the underworld, similar to the Egyptian gods Akeu and Anubis.[41]

Beetlewing art is an ancient craft technique using iridescent beetle wings practiced traditionally in Thailand, Myanmar, India, China and Japan. Beetlewing pieces are used as an adornment to paintings, textiles and jewelry. Different species of metallic wood-boring beetle wings were used depending on the region, but traditionally the most valued were those from beetles belonging to the genus Sternocera. The practice comes from across Asia and Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, India and China. In Thailand beetlewings were preferred to decorate clothing (shawls and Sabai cloth) and jewellery in former court circles.[42]

File:Jan van Kessel (I) Dragon-fly moths spider beetles with strawberries.jpg
A Dragon-fly, Two Moths, a Spider and Some Beetles, With Wild Strawberries by Jan van Kessel, 17th century. Wasp beetle, top left; clouded border moth, top right; migrant hawker dragonfly and cardinal beetle, centre left; magpie moth, centre right; cockchafer, lower left.

The Canadian entomologist C.H. Curran's 1945 book, Insects of the Pacific World, noted women from India and Sri Lanka, who kept 1 1/2 inch long, iridescent greenish coppery beetles of the species Chrysochroa ocellata as pets. These living jewels were worn on festive occasions, probably with a small chain attached to one leg anchored to the clothing to prevent escape. Afterwards, the insects were bathed, fed, and housed in decorative cages. Living jeweled beetles have also been worn and kept as pets in Mexico.[43]

Butterflies have long inspired humans with their life cycle, color, and ornate patterns. The novelist Vladimir Nabokov was also a renowned butterfly expert. He published and illustrated many butterfly species, stating:

"I discovered in nature the nonutilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were games of intricate enchantment and deception."[44]

It was the aesthetic complexity of insects that led Nabokov to reject natural selection.[45][46]

The naturalist Ian MacRae writes of butterflies:

". . . the animal is at once awkward, flimsy, strange, bouncy in flight, yet beautiful and immensely sympathetic; it is painfully transient, albeit capable of extreme migrations and transformations. Images and phrases such as "kaleidoscopic instabilities," "oxymoron of similarities," "rebellious rainbows," "visible darkness" and "souls of stone" have much in common. They bring together the two terms of a conceptual contradiction, thereby facilitating the mixing of what should be discrete and mutually exclusive categories . . . In positing such questions, butterfly science, an inexhaustible, complex, and finely nuanced field, becomes not unlike the human imagination, or the field of literature itself. In the natural history of the animal, we begin to sense its literary and artistic possibilities."[47]

The photographer Kjell Sanded spent 25 years documenting all 26 characters of the Latin alphabet using the wing patterns of butterflies and moths as "The Butterfly Alphabet".[48]

In 2011, the artist Anna Collette created over 10,000 individual ceramic insects at Nottingham Castle, "Stirring the Swarm." Reviews of the exhibit offered a compelling narrative for Cultural Entomology: "the unexpected use of materials, dark overtones, and the straightforward impact of thousands of tiny multiples within the space. The exhibition was at once both exquisitely beautiful and deeply repulsive, and this strange duality was fascinating."[49][50]

In literature

File:The Gold Bug Herpin.JPG
Illustration by "Herpin Inv" for an early edition of Edgar Allan Poe's 1843 The Gold-Bug

Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding, depicts a dystopian scenario of human society, and tackles sociopolitical concepts such as self-governance and the notion of "common good".[51] The 1963 film Ladybug Ladybug, an Academy Award nominated film similarly explores the hysteria surrounding nuclear war. The film plays on the classic children's poem of the same name.[51] Robert Heinlein's book Starship Troopers won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960. It explores people's contradictory attitudes towards arthropods, ranging from derogatory to appreciative of their evolutionary success.[52]

The insect allegory The Gold-Bug was written by the poet Edgar Allan Poe in 1843. The main character is bitten by a gold beetle and begins a manic search for hidden treasure.[53] "The Far Side" by Gary Larson consists of over 4300 cartoons, many of which have anthropomorphic insects and spiders as characters.[54][55][56][57] The Avengers series includes the character Henry Pym, aka Ant Man. A superhero, Ant-Man has the power to shrink to the size of an insect.[58] The Adventures of Maya the Bee (German: Die Biene Maja) is a German book, comic book series and animated television series, first written by Waldemar Bonsels and published in 1912, and translated into many other languages. The stories revolve around a little bee named Maya and her friends Willy the bee, Flip the grasshopper and other insects.[59]

In music

The Flight of the Bumblebee was written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, in 1899-1900, as part of his opera, The Tale of Tsar of Saltan. The piece is one of the most recognizable pieces in classical composition. The bumblebee in the story is a prince who has been transformed into an insect so that he can fly off to visit his father. It is the fast pace of the music that has caused its mass appeal. The speed of the piece makes it difficult to play and a number of musicians have risen to the challenge by setting world records for the fastest performance of the music on guitar, piano and violin.[60] The Canadian violinist Eric Speed broke the record for the fastest performance of the Flight of the Bumblebee at the "Just For Laughs" festival in Montreal on 22 July 2011, playing the piece in 53 seconds.[61] The song has a direct connection to martial arts master Bruce Lee, who starred on the radio program The Green Hornet. Flight was the show's theme music, blended with a hornet buzz created on a Theremin.[62] The play upon which the opera was based – written by Alexandr Pushkin – originally had two more insect themes: the Flight of the Mosquito and the Flight of the Fly. Neither was made into musical pieces. One was made into an illustration for the original publication.[63]

"Ants Marching" is a song by The Dave Matthews Band. The song features the themes of the monotony of everyday life being like ants marching endlessly to and fro. Both the theme and the music of the song are beloved by fans, being played over 1,000 times live in concert. Dave Matthews himself once declared, "This song is our anthem."[64]

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a 1972 concept album by English musician David Bowie, which is loosely based on a story of a fictional rock star named Ziggy Stardust. His three back-up musicians were referred to as "The Spiders." The album and subsequent documentary film were influential in music and culture. In 1987, as part of their 20th anniversary, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #6 on "The 100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years." In 1997, it was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll conducted in the United Kingdom by HMV Group, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM.

Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist, considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and is regarded, along with Franz Liszt, as Hungary's greatest composer (Gillies 2001). Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of ethnomusicology. In his bizarrely empathetic piece, From the Diary of a Fly, for piano (Mikrokosmos Vol. 6/142), Bartók attempts to depict the actions of a fly caught in a cobweb, from the fly's perspective—i.e., as related from his diary. The composer revealed there are buzzing sounds depicted that signify the fly's desperation to escape.[65]

The Irish folk singer Sinéad Lohan included the song "Bee In The Bottle" on her 1995 album Who Do You Think I Am.[66]

The jazz musician and philosophy professor David Rothenberg plays duets with singing insects including cicadas, crickets, and beetles.[67]

In astronomy

The constellation Musca (as Apis) is upper right. Detail from Johann Bayer's Uranometria, 1603

In astronomy, constellations named after arthropods include the zodiacal Scorpius, the scorpion,[68][69] and Musca, the fly, also known as Apis, the bee, in the deep southern sky. Musca, the only recognised insect constellation, was named by Petrus Plancius in 1597.[70]

The Butterfly Nebula, NGC 6302

"The Bug Nebula", also called "The Butterfly Nebula", is a more recent discovery. Known as NGC 6302 is one of the brightest and most popular stars in the universe – popular in that its features draw the attention of a lot of researchers. It happens to be located in the Scorpius constellation. It is perfectly bipolar, and until recently, the central star was unobservable, clouded by gas, but estimated to be one of the hottest in the galaxy – 200,000 degrees Fahrenheit, maybe 35xs hotter than our Sun.[71]

A recent discovery by the University of Manchester suggests that its gaseous composition reflects a celestial entity which has just finished a phase transition from oxygen rich to carbonate rich. This is the same process that would theoretically lead to the formation of a planet such as the Earth. In the gaseous nebula, scientists have detected carbonate particles, quarts and the presence of ice crystals. Cezary Szyszka, lead author on the paper and a research student at the University of Manchester, commented:

"It's extremely important to understand planetary nebulae such as the Bug Nebula, as they are crucial to understanding our own existence on Earth . . . Images like these are remarkable not only for their beauty but also for what they tell us about our own origins . . . The cloud of dust and ice in the Bug Nebula contains the seeds of a future generation of planets." "[72]

The honey bee played a central role in the cosmology of the Mayan people. The stucco figure at the temples of Tulum known as "Ah Mucen Kab" - the Diving Bee God - bears resemblance to the insect in the Codex Tro-Cortesianus identified as a bee. Such reliefs might have indicated towns and villages that produce honey. Modern Mayan authorities say the figure also have a connection to modern cosmology. Mayan mythology expert Migel Angel Vergara relates that the Mayans held a belief that bees came from Venus, the "Second Sun." (citation needed)

The relief might be indicative of another "insect deity", that of Xux Ex, the Mayan "wasp star."[73] The Mayan embodied Venus in the form of the god Kukulkán (also known as or related to Gukumatz and Quetzalcoatl in other parts of Mexico), Quetzalcoatl is a Mesoamerican deity whose name in Nahuatl means "feathered serpent". The cult was the first Mesoamerican religion to transcend the old Classic Period linguistic and ethnic divisions. This cult facilitated communication and peaceful trade among peoples of many different social and ethnic backgrounds.[74] Although the cult was originally centered on the ancient city of Chichén Itzá in the modern Mexican state of Yucatán, it spread as far as the Guatemalan highlands.[75]

In the Koran, the honeybee is the only creature that speak directly to God. Mohammed wrote in the 68-69 verses:

And your Lord taught the honey bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men's) habitations; Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought. (Surat an-Nahl (The Bee), 68-69)[76]


Ovo is an insect-themed production by the world renowned Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil. Ovo is Portuguese for "egg". The show looks at the world of insects and its biodiversity where they go about their daily lives until a mysterious egg appears in their midst, as the insects become awestruck about this iconic object that represents the enigma and cycles of their lives. The costuming was a fusion of arthropod body types blended with superhero armour. Liz Vandal, the lead costume designer, has a special affinity for the world of the insect:

When I was just a kid I put rocks down around the yard near the fruit trees and I lifted them regularly to watch the insects who had taken up residence underneath them. I petted caterpillars and let butterflies into the house. So when I learned that OVO was inspired by insects, I immediately knew that I was in a perfect position to pay tribute to this majestic world with my costumes. All insects are beautiful and perfect; it is what they evoke for each of us that changes our perception of them."[77]

The Webby award-winning video series Green Porno was created to showcase the reproductive habits of insects. Jody Shapiro and Rick Gilbert were responsible for translating the research and concepts that Isabella Rossellini envisioned into the paper and paste costumes which directly contribute to the series' unique visual style. The film series was driven by the creation of costumes to translate scientific research into "something visual and how to make it comical."[78]

Customs and superstitions

In China, farmers often regulate their crop planting according to the Awakening of the Insects, when temperature shifts and monsoon rains bring the insects—in particular crickets—out of hibernation. According to custom, if the first thunder of the year happens on this day, it will bring good luck to the entire agricultural production year. But if the first thunder happens before this day, the following period will be rainy and the autumn harvest will be bad. Most "Awakening" customs are related to eating snacks like pancakes, parched beans, pears, and fried corn, all symbolizing harmful insects in the field.

File:Pyrrharctia isabella - Caterpillar - Devonian Fossil Gorge - Iowa City - 2014-10-15 - image 1.jpg
Woolly bear caterpillar larva of the Isabella tiger moth, Pyrrharctia isabella is celebrated in the annual Woollybear Festival of the American Great Lakes.

In the Great Lakes region of the United States, there is an annual Woollybear Festival that has been celebrated for over 40 years. The larvae of the species Pyrrharctia isabella (commonly known as the Isabella Tiger moth), with their 13 distinct segments of black and reddish-brown, have the reputation in common folklore of being able to forecast the coming winter weather.[79] From 1948, C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History, counted the caterpillars in Bear Mountain State Park in an attempt to validate that tradition.[79]

The Freemasons adopted the beehive as a symbol; the hive came to be viewed as a type of "ark" analogous to the Holy Ark of the Covenant mentioned in the Bible. As such, honey was used in both funeral rites and ritual customs known as the Eleusinian Mysteries, the origins of which were practiced in ancient Egypt and Greece.[80]

During the 20th Century and into the new millennium, many misconceptions of insects – both positive and negative – have been dispelled. Karl von Frisch worked on insects' stimulus perception and communication. Much to the skepticism of his contemporaries, Von Frisch was the first scientist to demonstrate that invertebrates could see colors. Until the 1930s, colored sight was thought to be the domain of vertebrates.[81] Von Frisch later proved that honeybees communicated through a definite dance language. Again, this discovery resonated through the natural sciences and anthropology: it made for a compelling re-evaluation of the concept of language, thought to be only the realm of humans and a select group of mammals. The discovery was such a revelation that in 1973 Karl von Frisch received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (together with Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen) for his achievements in comparative behavioral physiology and pioneering work in communication between insects. Ever since the discovery the topic has been a source of controversy: it directly impacts the notion of the intellectual superiority of humans. The anthropologist Hugh Raffles writes of the discovery:

"To give them language was to simultaneously celebrate their difference and to doom them to impossibility, to condemn them to the merely imitative . . . What foolishness to judge insects - so ancient, so diverse, so accomplished, so successful, so beautiful, so astonishing, so mysterious, so unknown - by criteria they can never meet and about which they could not care. What silliness to disregard their accomplishments and focus instead on their supposed deficiencies!"[82]

There is a common misconception that cockroaches are serious vectors of disease. Cockroaches are not vagile, i.e. they do not travel far from their birthplace as opposed to the housefly which may travel miles from its birthplace. The cockroach will spread its GI tract contents throughout a building. If that is a home it will be helping to spread the diseases that the family and friends bring into the home. In a hospital or a restaurant it can spread diseases from sick to well individuals.[83] They have no bite or sting. It is true that by external contact that cockroaches can carry bacteria such as salmonella onto surfaces.[84] Their shells contain a protein, arylphorin, implicated in asthma and other respiratory conditions.[85]

Many people believe the urban myth that the daddy longlegs Opiliones have the most poisonous bite in the spider world, but that the fangs are too small to penetrate human skin. This is untrue on several counts. None of the known species of harvestmen have venom glands; their chelicerae are not hollowed fangs but grasping claws that are typically very small and definitely not strong enough to break human skin.[86] This myth is so pervasive that it was debunked by popular television show Bill Nye The Science Guy. However, Mythbusters Episode #13 (2004) stated that in fact the daddy long legs can bite, which elicits a slight tingling sensation. This is attributed to the fact the team procured cellar spiders for the experiment (which build webs and are capable of gentle bites)rather than the harvestmen spider.[87] Even still, the hosts stated clearly that the daddy long legs posed no significant threat to people.

In Japan, fireflies and rhinoceros beetles are the most popular insects, symbolising summer.[88]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Posey, Darrell Addison (1986). "Topics And Issues In Ethnoentomology With Some Suggestions For The Development Of Hypothesis-Generation And Testing In Ethnobiology" (PDF). Journal of Ethnobiology. 6 (1): 99–120. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 August 2014. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Further reading

  • Hogue, James N. (2003). "Cultural Entomology". In Vincent H. Resh, Ring T. Cardé (ed.). Encyclopedia of Insects. Academic Press. pp. 273–281. ISBN 0080546056.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Coelho, Joseph (2000). "Insects in Rock & Roll Music". American Entomologist. 46 (3): 186–200. doi:10.1093/ae/46.3.186.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Coelho, Joseph R. (2011). "Noninsect Arthropods in Popular Music". Insects. 2 (4): 253–263. doi:10.3390/insects2020253.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Marren, Peter; Mabey, Richard (2010). Bugs Britannica. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0-7011-8180-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Meyer-Rochow, V. B.; et al. (2008). "More feared than revered: Insects and their impact on human societies (with specific data on the importance of entomophagy in a Laotian setting". Entomologie Heute. 20: 3–25. Explicit use of et al. in: |first= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Morris, Brian (2006) [2004]. Cultural Entomology. Insects and Human Life. Berg. pp. 181–216. ISBN 978-1-84520-949-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schimitschek, E. (1968). "Insekten als Nahrung, Brauchtum, Kult und Kultur". In Helmcke J.G.; Stark D.; Wermuth H. (ed.). Handbuch der Zoologie. Berliner Akademie Verlag. pp. 1–62.CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>