Marketing Living Insects

Crop Pollination

Flowering plants are fertilized by several groups of insects. By far the most common pollinators are bees, and the honey bee, Apis mellifera, plays the dominant role in pollinating large tracts of agriculture. The domestication of the honey bee for pollinating crops had its beginnings at least 4000 years ago. Since that time, beekeeping has flourished and is now a thriving industry. In the United States alone, $15 billion worth of crops (fruits, vegetables, flowers) are pollinated by domesticated honey bees each year. Commercial apiaries lease their beehives to growers who need their crops pollinated. The keepers manage the hives, moving the bees from field to field to ensure crop pollination (Fig. 1). Although worker bees are not sold as such, their labor is. Moreover, the commercial interdependency of the honey bee industry is complex. Keepers buy high-quality queen bees from specialized suppliers, who, along with the keepers, purchase bee-tending equipment from other specialized suppliers, and the entire industry is dependent on information contained in specialized books, journals, and magazines.

A number of crops are more efficiently pollinated by bees of other kinds. Leaf-cutting bees, or mason bees, are a good example. These "solitary" bees, unlike honey bees, do not live in colonies. Solitary bees produce no honey or wax but are relatively docile and not likely to sting. One species of leaf-cutting bee, Osmia cornifrons, is widely used in Japan for apple pollination. It was imported to the eastern and midwestern United States for the same purpose. Another leaf-cutting bee, O. lignaria, a native to parts of the United States, is also widely used for orchard pollination. Pollinating a hectare of apples requires on average either 750 female hornfaced bees (O. cornifrons), 600 female blue orchard bees (O. lignaria), or 50,000 honey bee workers. Other mason bees, bred and sold to alfalfa growers in the western portions of the United States, ensure the production of high quality alfalfa seed. Not only are mason bees better pollinators of a number of crops, they are also immune to the devastating effects of tracheal and varroa mites, which can decimate honey bee colonies.

Another crop pollinator is the bumble bee, which is less affected by extreme weather than the honey bee and is better adapted to perform under confined greenhouse conditions. By vibrating as they extract nectar and pollen, bumble bees efficiently pollinate flowers and encourage high fruit set under greenhouse conditions. Bumble bees are bred, reared, and packaged for sale to growers for pollinating vegetable crops (particularly tomatoes) grown under greenhouse and plastic tunnel conditions. Entire industries are founded on the production and sale of bumble bees, especially in the Mediterranean region, from Spain to Israel.

Agricultural and Human Protection

One who has never witnessed the devastation of a crop by insect pests would be alarmed by the rapidity with which it can occur. One of the best ways to counter the buildup and devastation caused by insect pests is to unleash on them their own natural enemies. A vibrant industry is built on supplying the natural enemies or "beneficials" needed to manage pests and pest outbreaks, both for protecting agriculture and for preserving human health. These beneficials can take the form of insect pathogens, insects that prey on the pests (predators), insects that parasitize them (parasitoids), or insects that destroy weeds. This industry is increasingly in demand as growers, horticulturists, home gardeners, and vector control organizations alike turn from chemically oriented pest suppression measures to the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) and practices more attuned to organic farming. Many companies are in the business of rearing and supplying beneficial organisms, not just for agriculture and health in their broadest senses, but also for parklands, green corridors, and home gardens. This challenging industry must take into account knowledge of the systematics of the pests and the beneficial organisms that attack them, methods to efficiently and inexpensively mass-produce the desired beneficials, ways to maintain genetically viable and aggressive beneficial organisms, procedures to efficiently transport beneficials to targeted release sites, and knowledge to ensure that the habitats of the release sites are conducive to optimal utilization by the beneficials for controlling the pest. This last point is especially critical because the beneficials can simply move from the release site and take up residence elsewhere, providing a neighbor, instead of the grower who purchased them, with pest suppression.

Although the mass rearing and marketing of beneficial insects is an expanding business, the mass irradiation and release of sterile males is of a considerably larger scale. The Mediterranean fruit fly, New World screwworm, tsetse fly, and boll weevil have been successfully controlled through inundative releases of sterile males. The technology of irradiation is so notably complex, the scale of releases so great, and the costs of mass irradiation so high that these services are almost always provided by a governmental agency. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been instrumental in pioneering sterile male irradiation and release. The equipment needed to mass-rear, irradiate, and release sterile males is costly. Industry, its major supplier, is exploiting the need for this technology by developing and marketing specialized products.

Live Insects and Human Therapy

The thought of using live insects to treat human ailments would make most pale, but the results can sometimes outperform drugs and surgery typical of more traditional Western medicines. Honey bees, fly maggots, ants, and Plasmodium-carrying mosquitoes have all been used in human therapy.

The venom of honey bees is used to ameliorate inflammatory and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, rheumatism, chronic pain, neurological diseases, asthma, and dermatological conditions. The venom can be administered by humans or injected via the sting of a bee. Venom therapy is widely used in China, Korea, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Brazil, and the United States. Much of the research with venom therapy in the United States focuses on treatment of multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Of the more than 40 components identified in bee venom, 18 are considered to be active. One of these, melittin, is among the most powerful anti-inflammatory substances known. Although not a conventional form of treatment in the United States, anecdotal evidence of its efficacy is accumulating, and companies market bees and bee products for therapeutic purposes. This form of therapy should be undertaken only with qualified supervision and, since some people go into anaphylactic shock when stung by bees, should be administered with adequate precaution.

Maggot debridement therapy uses maggots of Phaenicia sericata to cleanse wounds of necrotic tissue without attacking healthy underlying tissues. Maggots have been used to treat abscesses, burns, cellulitis, gangrene, ulcers, osteomyelitis, and mastoiditis. Their use has lessened the need for amputations and has been especially useful where diabetes is a complicating factor. Therapy involving the cleansing effect of these maggots dates to the 16 th century. Despite the pioneering work in the early part of the 20th century, the practice of debridement therapy fell to disuse with the advent of antibiotics and new surgical techniques in the mid-1940s. The increase in resistance to antibiotics in the late 1980s elicited a resurgence of interest in debridement therapy. The mechanisms underlying success of this treatment remain poorly understood to this day.

Live ants, particularly Amazonian army ants and carpenter ants of Africa, India, and the Mediterranean region, have been used to close wounds and surgical incisions. The sharp mandibles of the soldiers lock when their jaws are closed, irrevocably fastened in place even if the bodies are severed from their heads. Although these live suturing instruments are unlikely to grace surgical theaters in modern hospitals, they have long been used by native peoples.

Another use of live insects for therapy has fallen to disuse now that better alternatives are available. Before other treatments were available, it was known that the progress of syphilis could be halted when the body temperature was raised above 40°C. Because the effects of syphilis were so devastating, mosquitoes bearing a relatively mild strain of malaria were used to infect such patients. The Plasmodium pathogen caused high fevers that exterminated the syphilis pathogen. Although the patients were then infected with malaria, the cure was deemed worth the consequences.

Living Insects on Parade

There is little doubt that insects fascinate. Perhaps that is why they are so often featured in zoos and living museum displays, sold as pets, bred and released to celebrate special events, filmed and videotaped for movie and television productions, and ubiquitously adopted for live entertainment and education.

Why anyone would purchase live immature insects and rear them to adulthood may baffle some, but marketing immatures for that purpose is a thriving industry. Hobbyists in the United Kingdom and around the world order exotic butterfly chrysalids for the sheer joy of observing the spectacularly adorned adults emerge. Ant farms, butterfly houses with living chrysalids, a wide variety of butterfly immatures, exotic live tropical stick insects, praying mantid and cockroach oothecae, pea aphids, Drosophila, mealworms, and lady beetles are sold directly by suppliers or by auction. Rearing these insects is both fun and educational. For insect collectors, it offers a way to obtain exotic species.

Insect zoos, petting zoos, live museum displays, and insects in botanical gardens provide a sometimes exotic backdrop for educating the curious. Staged cricket and beetle fights are popular pastimes in Japan and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Entomology departments at universities and museum and entomological societies in a number of countries have sponsored insect expositions (insect expos) that draw school groups and families from great distances to view these fascinating creatures firsthand. Cockroach races are regular features at insect expos. The human flea, Pulex irritans, was the center of attraction in American flea circuses, where their antics would attract Depression-era audiences to see a show at more than the cost of a double-feature movie.

Butterflies are a charismatic group of insects that are recognized and appreciated by almost everyone. The butterflies' spectacular, often iridescent beauty has caught the eye of naturalists and collectors alike. In Victorian times, Lord Rothschild employed more than 400 explorers to seek out and collect butterflies for what became the largest personal butterfly collection in the world. Although rearing, buying, and trading butterflies has been a popular pastime in Europe since the days of Queen Victoria, one of the first butterfly houses was inaugurated only relatively recently, in 1977, to attract tourists to Britain's island of Guernsey, whose poor weather left little to recommend it. After Guernsey's commercial tomato industry failed and the plastic growing houses were abandoned, someone thought to plant tropical gardens in those plastic houses and populate them with exotic butterflies. The idea was a success and was copied elsewhere well into the 1980s. In 1977, exotic butterfly suppliers were unknown, but the industry has since spread to Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Kenya, Madagascar, and the United States.

Why not release butterflies at your wedding ceremony or next celebration? Environmentally correct, butterflies can be impressive when they take flight. Forget the rice, birdseed, and confetti. Painted lady (Vanessa cardui) and monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies are bred and sold for such releases. One particularly poignant use of butterfly releases took place at a fund-raising event in Costa Rica, where each member of the legislature released a butterfly and simultaneously called out the name of a street child to whom the release was dedicated, lifting the children's hopes and aspirations skyward.

Who can resist the calming effects of sounds emanating from nature? Many commercial stores play bird, frog, and other nature sounds as a means of enticing customers to come in and shop. Compact discs (CDs) are recorded and sold for commercial use and for households wishing to bring that calming quality into the home. Among the insect sounds recorded and marketed are those of cicadas, grasshoppers, tree crickets, mole crickets, ground crickets, and katydids singing; June beetles flying; honey bees, bumble bees, yellowjackets, and midges swarming; and medleys of insects communicating or otherwise sounding off in nature. These recordings are sometimes played at insect expos to help bring a sense of reality to those who come to imbibe the amazing presence of the insect world.

The entertainment industry takes advantage of fascinating, educational, scary, and exciting properties of insects by featuring them in movies and on television. Insects are topics of education and wonder on various television series. The cost of producing these documentaries, largely filmed in the wild, is covered by sponsorship. Like early films with insect subjects, children's movies rarely film living insects; instead they use graphical characterizations and cartoon images. Fictional films made for more mature audiences, however, usually present the frightening or horrifying aspects of insects, and for this purpose, people are hired as "insect wranglers" to supply and manage live insects on the set. Such management demands a basic understanding of insect behavior, including knowing how to influence the insects to "act" in the way desired by the film director. Discovering that dead insects were easier to manipulate than live ones, Wladislaw Starewicz wired dead specimens and manipulated them frame by frame to simulate desired actions in his early short, The Fight of the Stag Beetles. In the 1978 film, The Swarm, killer bee invasions were depicted by filming actual bees.

Waging War with Insects

Insect-borne diseases have taken the lives of countless soldiers throughout the ages. Millions have fallen to malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and a host of other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. The purposeful waging of war with living insects dates to at least the 14th century when the Tartar army catapulted bodies of bubonic plague victims into Kaffa. Although knowledge that fleas spread this dread disease would not come until much later, the tactic nonetheless served its purpose.

Using insects to destroy agricultural crops seems to have emerged as a weapon of war only in modern times. Harlequin bugs, Murgantia histrionica, were introduced into the South, presumably in an effort to destroy the crops of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Insects were used in both world wars as purposeful weapons. During World War II, the Japanese undertook the first large-scale use of insects as weapons of war by mass-producing an astonishing 500 million fleas bearing plague bacilli per year! In 1950, during the Cold War, the United States was accused of dropping Colorado potato beetles over East Germany. The Korean War brought to the Far East theater some 14 additional insects purportedly propagated in the United States as agricultural and medical warfare agents. The Vietnam War introduced additional entomological agents of war, especially as vectors of anticrop agents like plant viruses (e.g., beet curly top and Fiji disease), and fungi, (e.g., fire blight, cornwilt).

It was not until 1972 that insects were explicitly banned as weapons of mass destruction by the Biological Weapons Convention. Even though the mass production of these biological weapons was carried out exclusively by governmental agencies acting in secret, the trickle-down effects on local economies of producing entomological "weapons" must have been notable.

Entomological warfare does not stop with wars, where humans square off against each other. In 1990, another relatively large-scale war was waged, this time on the illicit drug trade. In fact, the U.S. government allocated $6.5 million to investigate, breed, and air-drop lepidopterous caterpillars to devour fields planted to coca in tropical Peru.

Insect Identification Services

There are so many insects in this world that it is difficult to identify them. Only by having authoritative determinations can many of the various insect-oriented industries succeed. Because of this demand, identification services have sprung up around the world. Some are geared toward the identification of agriculturally or medically related insects, but many focus on identifying insects in the context of biodiversity, especially of benthic invertebrates.

Bee Keeping

Bee Keeping

Make money with honey How to be a Beekeeper. Beekeeping can be a fascinating hobby or you can turn it into a lucrative business. The choice is yours. You need to know some basics to help you get started. The equipment needed to be a beekeeper. Where can you find the equipment you need? The best location for the hives. You can't just put bees in any spot. What needs to be considered when picking the location for your bees?

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