Most of the animals on earth are insects and with specie numbers estimated to be between 9 and 30 million, insects are definitely the most successful group of animals living on the earth today! Just what makes them so successful isn't clearly understood but it is thought that in beetles for example it is the hard wing covering (elytra) that owes them their success. The elytra would allow them to live in more environments than would be possible if they had soft wing covering.
Insects are extensively researched by institutions such as Museums and Universities, but have been largely ignored in conventional conservation methods. Many Nature
Reserves house rare and endemic plant species but often no one knows what the pollinator is and therefore the future of the plant in the wild cannot be foreseen. One way to find out which insects are found in a particular area is to make a collection. Unfortunately, the specimens have to be killed in order to study them. Once in a lab we can study the insect under a lens or microscope and that is how new species are found! Interactions between insects animals and plants are also sometimes found in this way, as it is very hard to notice associations such as these, when little winged beasties are the subject.
Zandvlei Nature Reserve has recently started an insect collection and as this area hasn't been extensively studied in the past, what we find could potentially be helpful to science.
One of the trends we have noticed in the Reserve is that we have the habitat for many species of butterfly of the family Lycaenidae but these butterflies are not present. Something that is vital to these butterflies survival is missing; cocktail ants!
The ants live in tar-coloured nests situated in the branches of an indigenous bush. The larval stage of the butterfly and the ants live in symbiosis, until such time that the butterfly larva is ready to pupate.
Its only by studying the insects in the Reserve (and even in one's own garden) that one can notice these trends and only then, can we make informed decisions about the future
conservation and ultimately, the survival of these species.