Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Incredible Invertebrates

On planet Earth, 99% of all animals are invertebrates. These unique animals find themselves with the challenge of surviving without the bony support system we often take for granted. Now, I mean no disrespect to the faithful backbone. I myself am very grateful for my bony vertebrae.  But we as humans are part of the vertebrate minority. Bodies without backbones far outnumber us, and so in the Animal Kingdom, it seems backbones are somewhat overrated.

So what are some examples of invertebrates? The term covers a wide variety of organisms. Because invertebrates are animals, they meet several key classification requirements. All animals are multicellular, have a plasma membrane around their cells, reproduce sexually (many reproduce asexually as well), and are heterotrophic (they must consume other organisms for sustenance). Invertebrate animals include sponges, jellyfish, flatworms, roundworms, earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, etc), mollusks (octopi, snails, clams, etc), spiders, scorpions, and insects. There are also dozens of less well-known and rather bizarre invertebrate groups.

Now while I find all invertebrates fascinating, I am particularly intrigued by insects. They are the most numerous animals on the planet. They exhibit an astounding variety of body plans, colors, and sizes. Insects have exploited every major ecosystem and are found on every continent (including Antarctica!). They can cause devastation and disease, but are also vital to our survival. Pollinators such as bees allow us to enjoy many varieties of fruits and vegetables. Many insects are predators of the pests that can wreak havoc on our agricultural system. Insects exhibit many fascinating behaviors seen nowhere else in the Animal Kingdom, yet they are often overlooked because of their size and alien (sometimes even scary!) appearance.

The purpose of my blog is to explore the amazing world of insects on a weekly basis. I also plan to highlight some other interesting invertebrates as well. My hope is to educate, inspire, and maybe even change a few minds regarding insects. But even if I never do persuade you to touch or even look at an insect, I hope you will gain a greater appreciation and respect for these remarkable six-legged creatures. And perhaps you may find yourself contemplating the overratedness of backbones.

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