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Winter is finally upon us! With winter comes a delightful break from the year-round torment of bugs flying your face.

Winter is cold - as a result, you can peacefully breathe the winter air without having to worry about inhaling swarms of bugs. Then the thought occurred to me:

Could there be a world without bugs?


Two major problems I though of:

Insects are, either directly or indirectly, the most plentiful source of flesh for animals that don’t eat plants.

This could be rather problematic, because essentially removing the base of the food chain would require a lot of re-working in this area. Some birds whose diet consists entirely of insects could be handwaved into eating seeds and berries, but I don't know if there could even be enough seed and berry producing plants to realistically sustain (year round) all of the small animals that now eat insects. Besides, having all the smaller animals eat plants leads into another problem:

Plants need pollination, and if you get rid of the bees, the plants won't be able to produce fruit or seeds.

This isn't necessarily a problem, as there are already a lot of plants that get pollinated via Anemophily. Such plants include grasses and larger trees, but I don't see any reason why a little handwaving couldn't extend this to all plants.


Are there any other serious obstacles to creating a world without bugs? This world should be as close to Earth as possible, but I'd be fine with some pretty big changes, provided that it stays habitable for humans, and the nice animals humans are familiar with. How this world originated with its delightful insect-free ecosystem is irrelevant.

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  • $\begingroup$ "without having to worry about inhaling swarms of bugs" sir where do you live and is that really the best place? $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Jan 1 '17 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ lol - it is usually only a problem on late summer afternoons for a few days of the year - after a certain type of supper annoying little bug has hatched in incredibly large numbers and are flying around in literal swarms. (it almost looks like rain, except they are bugs.) $\endgroup$ – X-27 wants to Reinstate Monica Jan 1 '17 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ You don't need a world without bugs, you need a world without flying bugs. $\endgroup$ – Luís Henrique Mar 6 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @LuísHenrique That is a good point. I mainly can't stand the bugs that fly in your face and you end up inhalling... $\endgroup$ – X-27 wants to Reinstate Monica Mar 7 at 1:32
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Bugs are replaceable but their roles must be preserved

You must have some species to do their jobs if they are not present.

These may include

  • Pollination. While plants may develop mechanisms that don't rely on animal life, or rely on mammals, birds, etc. bugs make up an extremely significant percent of all pollinators. It's not impossible to live without them, but they sure do help.
  • Being abundant primary consumers. As the question mentions, bugs help process plant matter, and they, in turn, are eaten. There is no reason why herbivores of other families (mammals, birds, fish) couldn't become the primary consumers instead; if they're plentiful and widespread they will work just as well. Consider sheep, which eat grass, that are hunted by coyotes, which are in turn sometimes eaten by bears - etc. Dozens of other interactions occur within this ecosystem, which relies on mammals, and not insects, and remains healthy.
  • Refining nutrients. Bugs, as a group, can eat almost anything in nature given enough time (citation needed). Animals that in turn consume them receive the processed nutrients from substances they otherwise could not digest. If you seek to replace bugs, a large group of organisms with a similar ability must be present - or food must be plentiful virtually everywhere.
  • Aiding decomposition. While bacteria may be great when it comes to breaking down dead tissue, maggots, flies, worms, isopods, and other "bugs" boost the speed of decomposition in nature. Increased bacteria or increased scavenger populations may solve this problem in a bug-free world, but nonetheless, it will be different from our own.
  • Influencing civilized societies. Numerous food and textile products come from bugs, they have many practical applications (removing other species, draining wounds, to name a few), and they influence engineering (by building structures and moving in efficient or interesting ways). These are all replaceable, but society may be different in a bug-free world.

However

It's difficult to evolve a world without something like bugs. They're small, diverse, adaptable, and reproduce often and in great numbers, making them very fit to survive; they work and it doesn't take a lot of time to make them, so they probably will occur.

I cannot promise that every alien world out there has bugs exactly like ours, but I imagine many, if they exist, do.

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    $\begingroup$ This is more of a list that I was looking for. +1. I hadn't even considered decomposition, and turning otherwise indigestible organic mater into nutrients for other animals certainly is important. I can't really see a way around this aside from either allowing current animals to eat a lot more, or just hand waving it away (which is just so lame) $\endgroup$ – X-27 wants to Reinstate Monica Jan 1 '17 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ @X-27 Yeah... there is a mammal counterpart for every insect job I've outlined but bugs are so numerous that they really work best. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Jan 1 '17 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ If there is a vacant ecological niche something will evolve to occupy it. So one can reasonably expect that absent flying insects, very small birds will evolve, and absent beetles and their larvae, very small mammals. It might take a long time. It was a geological age (the carboniferous) between trees evolving , and fungi that could digest wood evolving! $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Jan 1 '17 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @nigel222 Indeed. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Jan 1 '17 at 14:59
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You would need other animals to fill the same ecological niches, or leave them empty.

  • Perhaps some of them can be filled by small mammals, birds, or reptiles. Consider tiny variants of the colibri to pollinate plants, or tiny scavenger lizards.
  • Other niches may be filled by worms.

Compared to bugs they're still large.

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  • $\begingroup$ Humming birds already can pollinate quite a few plants, and they are really small birds! So it is actually pretty realistic that other small (non bug) animals could fill in some of the bug roles. But there still is the problem of food. Would there be enough? $\endgroup$ – X-27 wants to Reinstate Monica Dec 31 '16 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ @X-27, if you replace each insect species with the same weight of non-insects, who knows? Small warm-blooded carnivores might need more food than the insects they replace in the food chain. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Dec 31 '16 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ well that would completely defeat the point - having an swarm of 1/16 inch birds flying around on a hot summer evening waiting for you to inhale them is no better than a swarm of bugs... $\endgroup$ – X-27 wants to Reinstate Monica Dec 31 '16 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @X-27 Except they're more beautiful than flies. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 1 '17 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ Worms go smaller than insects, right down to the microscopic nematodes. (Also, ISTR dust mites are arachnids not insects). $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Jan 1 '17 at 13:23
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The issue I see is that there are some roles that the bugs (I assume you are including all insects like beetles etc.) are very good at and have become specialised in.

For example: Dung beetles. They consume manure from a wide variety of sources, however one of the huge impacts they have is in parasite reduction, they mess up and dry out the manure as well as stealing it, this means parasite eggs (such as nematodes etc) generally dry out and die. if the insect population dies out relatively quickly then you would have a period where meat production would be massively impacted, not to mention greenhouse gas emission from the animals and the manure would be altered, less of the gasses like nitrogen being buried and so on and so forth.

The world would survive (whether we do or not is another thing) but it would be drastically altered.

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