Insects on the Kids' Environmental Report Card from

What's the most important way insects help the environment?

"Insects are so important! I can't pick just one," the majority of voters on the Kids' Environmental Report Card poll replied. Only a handful felt that insects didn't help the environment and, instead, were "just annoying."

Compare those results with ones from an earlier poll about the merits of spiders. More than half the number of kids who felt spiders are "Important" voted "Ick! Smush them quick."

Beneficial or Bothersome?

By one estimate, about one million trillion insects are alive at any moment. So what would happen if all of these six-legged invertebrates were to suddenly vanish from our planet?

The result would be catastrophic, according to Harvard University biologist Edward O. Wilson. Entire ecosystems would be destroyed, Wilson says.

Unable to reproduce, plants that rely on insect pollinators would perish. So would trillions of organisms, including many reptiles, birds, and mammals that rely on insects for food. Without insects to aid in breaking down dead plant and animal matter, we'd soon be up to our necks in decay.

But what if humans were to disappear?

"The land ecosystems would return in a few centuries to near their original healthy, balanced condition," Wilson told Discover magazine writer Josie Glausiusz.

Mention that the next time someone calls a dragonfly, an ant or a bee "annoying."