Image: John Losey
Kevin Rivoli  /  AP
John Losey, a Cornell University associate professor of entomology, studies multicolored Asian lady beetles in his lab in Ithaca, N.Y., on Friday. Losey conducted a study that says insects contribute more than $57 billion a year to the U.S. economy.
updated 4/1/2006 2:53:13 AM ET 2006-04-01T07:53:13

Think twice before you swat a fly or squash a bug: A new study says insects contribute more than $57 billion a year to the U.S. economy.

And that is a very conservative estimate, said John Losey, a Cornell University associate professor of entomology who conducted the study, published in the current issue of the journal BioScience.

“Most insects tirelessly perform functions that improve our environment and lives in ways that scientists are only beginning to understand,” said Losey, who wrote the study with Mace Vaughan of the Portland, Ore.-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

There are more than 1 million named insect species — and probably an equal number unidentified — making them the most abundant life form on the planet.

The study focused on four particular services that bugs provide, and what the cost would be if the insects were gone:

  • Nutrition for wildlife. The researchers looked at how much is spent annually on observing or hunting wildlife, and how much these animals depend on insects for food. Value: $50 billion.
  • Pest control. Insects often prey on other insects. The researchers looked at the amount of damage done by pests, and the losses that would result if their predators disappeared. Value: $4.5 billion.
  • Pollination. The researchers looked at the value of crops that are insect-pollinated (not including crops pollinated by domesticated honeybees). Value: $3 billion.
  • Dung burial. If not for dung beetles, manure on grazing land would attract more flies and parasites that farmers would have to control. Also, dung beetles help return nutrients to the soil. Without them, farmers would have to spend more on fertilizer. Value: $380 million.

The study focused only on wild insects and did not count the value of commercially produced insect-derived products, such as honey and silk.

Lawrence Abrahamson, an entomologist at the State University of New York, agreed the $57 billion figure is conservative.

“Most people think of insects and go yuck. They think about mosquitoes and flies. They don’t realize just about everything in life is affected some way, somehow, by insects,” he said.

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