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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: Insect

Insect Quotes (38 quotes)

A single swallow, it is said, devours ten millions of insects every year. The supplying of these insects I take to be a signal instance of the Creator's bounty in providing for the lives of His creatures.
Attributed to Henry Ward Beecher as a quote under the definition of 'Bounty' in Ambrose Bierce, The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary, 40. Webmaster has not yet found a primary print source confirming the quote is by Beecher, and thus presently lists it under Bierce. Please contact webmaster if you know a primary print source for Beecher.
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After the planet becomes theirs, many millions of years will have to pass before a beetle particularly loved by God, at the end of its calculations will find written on a sheet of paper in letters of fire that energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light. The new kings of the world will live tranquilly for a long time, confining themselves to devouring each other and being parasites among each other on a cottage industry scale.
'Beetles' Other People's Trades (1985, trans. 1989).
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All life is linked together in such a way that no part of the chain is unimportant. Frequently, upon the action of some of these minute beings depends the material success or failure of a great commonwealth.
Insect Life: An Introduction To Nature-Study And A Guide For Teachers (1897), 1.
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An infinity of these tiny animals defoliate our plants, our trees, our fruits... they attack our houses, our fabrics, our furniture, our clothing, our furs ... He who in studying all the different species of insects that are injurious to us, would seek means of preventing them from harming us, would seek to cause them to perish, proposes for his goal important tasks indeed.
In J. B. Gough, 'Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur', in Charles Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 11, 332.
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Animals, even plants, lie to each other all the time, and we could restrict the research to them, putting off the real truth about ourselves for the several centuries we need to catch our breath. What is it that enables certain flowers to resemble nubile insects, or opossums to play dead, or female fireflies to change the code of their flashes in order to attract, and then eat, males of a different species?
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 131.
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As physicists have arranged an extensive series of effects under the general term of Heat, so they have named another series Light, and a third they have called Electricity. We find ... that all these principles are capable of being produced through the medium of living bodies, for nearly all animals have the power of evolving heat; many insects, moreover, can voluntarily emit light; and the property of producing electricity is well evinced in the terrible shock of the electric eel, as well as in that of some other creatures. We are indeed in the habit of talking of the Electric fluid, or the Galvanic fluid, but this in reality is nothing but a licence of expression suitable to our finite and material notions.
In the Third Edition of Elements of Electro-Metallurgy: or The Art of Working in Metals by the Galvanic Fluid (1851), 1.
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Coming to the question of life being found on other planets, Professor Haldane apologized for discoursing, as a mere biologist, on a subject on which we had been expecting a lecture by a physicist [J. D. Bernal]. He mentioned three hypotheses:
(a) That life had a supernatural origin,
(b) That it originated from inorganic materials, and (c) That life is a constituent of the Universe and can only arise from pre-existing life. The first hypothesis, he said, should be taken seriously, and he would proceed to do so. From the fact that there are 400,000 species of beetle on this planet, but only 8,000 species of mammals, he concluded that the Creator, if he exists, has a special preference for beetles, and so we might be more likely to meet them than any other type of animal on a planet which would support life.
In Mark Williamson, 'Haldane's Special Preference', The Linnean, 1992, 8, 14.
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Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
Bible
Proverbs 6:6. In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 261.
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Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time ants show up in the potato salad. The 8,800 known species of the family Formicidae make up from 10% to 15% of the world's animal biomass, the total weight of all fauna. They are the most dominant social insect in the world, found almost everywhere except in the polar regions. Ants turn more soil than earthworms; they prune, weed and police most of the earth's carrion. Among the most gregarious of creatures, they are equipped with a sophisticated chemical communications system. To appreciate the strength and speed of this pesky invertebrate, consider that a leaf cutter the size of a man could run repeated four-minute miles while carrying 750 lbs. of potato salad.
From book review, 'Nature: Splendor in The Grass', Time (3 Sep 1990).
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I can say, if I like, that social insects behave like the working parts of an immense central nervous system: the termite colony is an enormous brain on millions of legs; the individual termite is a mobile neurone.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 224. Note: Spelling “neurone&rdwuo; [sic].
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I have from my childhood, in conformity with the precepts of a mother void of all imaginary fear, been in the constant habit of taking toads in my hand, and applying them to my nose and face as it may happen. My motive for doing this very frequently is to inculcate the opinion I have held, since I was told by my mother, that the toad is actually a harmless animal; and to whose manner of life man is certainly under some obligation as its food is chiefly those insects which devour his crops and annoy him in various ways.
Letter to an unknown correspondent, quoted by Bowdler Sharpe, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1900), Vol. 1, 69. In Averil M. Lysaght, Joseph Banks in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1766: his Diary, Manuscripts, and Collections (1971), 44.
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If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.
In Rosemarie Jarski, Words From The Wise (2007), 269. [Contact webmaster if you know the primary print source.]
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If you confine yourself to this Skinnerian technique, you study nothing but the learning apparatus and you leave out everything that is different in octopi, crustaceans, insects and vertebrates. In other words, you leave out everything that makes a pigeon a pigeon, a rat a rat, a man a man, and, above all, a healthy man healthy and a sick man sick.
'Some Psychological Concepts and Issues. A Discussion between Konrad Lorenz and Richard I Evans'. In Richard I. Evans, Konrad Lorenz: The Man and his Ideas (1975), 60.
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In 1847 I gave an address at Newton, Mass., before a Teachers’ Institute conducted by Horace Mann. My subject was grasshoppers. I passed around a large jar of these insects, and made every teacher take one and hold it while I was speaking. If any one dropped the insect, I stopped till he picked it up. This was at that time a great innovation, and excited much laughter and derision. There can be no true progress in the teaching of natural science until such methods become general.
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In the study of this membrane [the retina] I for the first time felt my faith in Darwinism (hypothesis of natural selection) weakened, being amazed and confounded by the supreme constructive ingenuity revealed not only in the retina and in the dioptric apparatus of the vertebrates but even in the meanest insect eye. ... I felt more profoundly than in any other subject of study the shuddering sensation of the unfathomable mystery of life.
Recollections of My Life (1898), 576. Quoted in Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light (1999), 16.
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In the vast cosmical changes, the universal life comes and goes in unknown quantities ... sowing an animalcule here, crumbling a star there, oscillating and winding, ... entangling, from the highest to the lowest, all activities in the obscurity of a dizzying mechanism, hanging the flight of an insect upon the movement of the earth... Enormous gearing, whose first motor is the gnat, and whose last wheel is the zodiac.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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INSECTIVORA, n.
'See,' cries the chorus of admiring preachers,
'How Providence provides for all His creatures!"'
'His care,' the gnat said, 'even the insects follows: For us
He has provided wrens and swallows.'
[Under pen-name Sempen Railey.]
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  169.
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Is not disease the rule of existence? There is not a lily pad floating on the river but has been riddled by insects. Almost every shrub and tree has its gall, oftentimes esteemed its chief ornament and hardly to be distinguished from the fruit. If misery loves company, misery has company enough. Now, at midsummer, find me a perfect leaf or fruit.
In The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1893), Vol. 9, 458.
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It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water teem with delighted existence. In a spring noon, or a summer evening, on whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view. “The insect youth are on the wing.” Swarms of new-born flies are trying their pinions in the air. Their sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity testify their joy and the exultation they feel in their lately discovered faculties … The whole winged insect tribe, it is probable, are equally intent upon their proper employments, and under every variety of constitution, gratified, and perhaps equally gratified, by the offices which the author of their nature has assigned to them.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of The Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 490-1.
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Let him who so wishes take pleasure in boring us with all the wonders of nature: let one spend his life observing insects, another counting the tiny bones in the hearing membrane of certain fish, even in measuring, if you will, how far a flea can jump, not to mention so many other wretched objects of study; for myself, who am curious only about philosophy, who am sorry only not to be able to extend its horizons, active nature will always be my sole point of view; I love to see it from afar, in its breadth and its entirety, and not in specifics or in little details, which, although to some extent necessary in all the sciences, are generally the mark of little genius among those who devote themselves to them.
'L'Homme Plante', in Oeuvres Philosophiques de La Mettrie (1796), Vol. 2, 70-1. Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, edited by Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 377.
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Life is hard for insects. And don't think mice are having any fun either.
Without Feathers (1975), 103
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Men should stop fighting among themselves and start fighting insects.
In George Seldes, The Great Quotations (1960), 125.
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Never to have seen anything but the temperate zone is to have lived on the fringe of the world. Between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer live the majority of all the plant species, the vast majority of the insects, most of the strange ... quadrupeds, all of the great and most of the poisonous snakes and large lizards, most of the brilliantly colored sea fishes, and the strangest and most gorgeously plumaged of the birds.
Exploring For Plants (1930), 329.
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Now when you cut a forest, an ancient forest in particular, you are not just removing a lot of big trees and a few birds fluttering around in the canopy. You are drastically imperiling a vast array of species within a few square miles of you. The number of these species may go to tens of thousands. ... Many of them are still unknown to science, and science has not yet discovered the key role undoubtedly played in the maintenance of that ecosystem, as in the case of fungi, microorganisms, and many of the insects.
On Human Nature (2000). In John H. Morgan, Naturally Good (2005), 252.
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Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light; in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphous, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
Levi Primo and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.), The Periodic Table (1975, 1984), 227-228. In this final section of his book, Levi imagines the life of a carbon atom. He calls this his first “literary dream”. It came to him at Auschwitz.
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Our treasure lies in the beehives of our knowledge. We are perpetually on our way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind. The only thing that lies close to our heart is the desire to bring something home to the hive.
The Genealogy of Morals (1887), as translated by Francis Golffing (1956), 149. In another translation, by Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen, it appears as: 'It has rightly been said: "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"; our treasure is where the beehives of our knowledge stand. We are forever underway towards them, as born winged animals and honey-gathers of the spirit, concerned will all our heart about only one thing—"bringing home" something.'
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See, thro' this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast chain of being, which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect! what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from Infinite to thee,
From thee to Nothing—On superior pow'rs
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroy'd:
From Nature's chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
'An Essay on Man' (1733-4), Epistle I. In John Butt (ed.), The Poems of Alexander Pope (1965), 513.
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Some primal termite knocked on wood.
And tasted it, and found it good.
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.
Good Intentions (1942), 261. In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 261.
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The centipede was happy quite, until a toad in fun
Said, 'Pray which leg goes after which?'
That work'd her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in a ditch, considering how to run.
Pinafore Poems in Cassell's Weekly (1871). In Steven Vogel and Rosemary Anne Calvert Life's Devices (1988), 254.
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The mortal enemies of man are not his fellows of another continent or race; they are the aspects of the physical world which limit or challenge his control, the disease germs that attack him and his domesticated plants and animals, and the insects that carry many of these germs as well as working notable direct injury. This is not the age of man, however great his superiority in size and intelligence; it is literally the age of insects.
The Social Life of Insects, Chapter 7 (1939).

The stories of Whitney's love for experimenting are legion. At one time he received a letter asking if insects could live in a vacuum. Whitney took the letter to one of the members of his staff and asked the man if he cared to run an experiment on the subject. The man replied that there was no point in it, since it was well established that life could not exist without a supply of oxygen. Whitney, who was an inveterate student of wild life, replied that on his farm he had seen turtles bury themselves in mud each fall, and, although the mud was covered with ice and snow for months, emerge again in the spring. The man exclaimed, "Oh, you mean hibernation!" Whitney answered, "I don't know what I mean, but I want to know if bugs can live in a vacuum."
He proceeded down the hall and broached the subject to another member of the staff. Faced with the same lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter further, Whitney tried another illustration. "I've been told that you can freeze a goldfish solidly in a cake of ice, where he certainly can't get much oxygen, and can keep him there for a month or two. But if you thaw him out carefully he seems none the worse for his experience." The second scientist replied, "Oh, you mean suspended animation." Whitney once again explained that his interest was not in the terms but in finding an answer to the question.
Finally Whitney returned to his own laboratory and set to work. He placed a fly and a cockroach in a bell jar and removed the air. The two insects promptly keeled over. After approximately two hours, however, when he gradually admitted air again, the cockroach waved its feelers and staggered to its feet. Before long, both the cockroach and the fly were back in action.
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357-358.
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There is a kind of plant that eats organic food with its flowers: when a fly settles upon the blossom, the petals close upon it and hold it fast till the plant has absorbed the insect into its system; but they will close on nothing but what is good to eat; of a drop of rain or a piece of stick they will take no notice. Curious! that so unconscious a thing should have such a keen eye to its own interest.
In Erewhon: Or Over the Range (1880), 190.
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To see every day how people get the name ‘genius' just as the wood-lice in the cellar the name ‘millipede'—not because they have that many feet, but because most people don't want to count to 14—this has had the result that I don't believe anyone any more without checking.
Lichtenberg: Aphorisms & Letters (1969), 48, translated by Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield.
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We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universe[s,] to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.
In Notebook N (1838), 36. Excerpted in Charles Darwin, Thomas F. Glick (ed.) and David Kohn (ed.) On Evolution: The Development of the Theory of Natural Selection (1996), 80.
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We have the opportunity of observing her [Nature] through these delicate and pellucid teguments of the bodies of Insects acting according to her usual course and way, undisturbed, whereas when we endeavour to pry into her secrets by breaking open the doors upon her, and dissecting and mangling creatures whil'st there is life yet within them, we find her indeed at work, but put into such disorder by the violence offer'd, as it may easily be imagin'd how differing a thing we should find, if we could, as we can with a Microscope, in these smaller creatures, quietly peep in at the windows, without frighting her out of her usual byas.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), 186.
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Who shall declare the time allotted to the human race, when the generations of the most insignificant insect also existed for unnumbered ages? Yet man is also to vanish in the ever-changing course of events. The earth is to be burnt up, and the elements are to melt with fervent heat—to be again reduced to chaos—possibly to be renovated and adorned for other races of beings. These stupendous changes may be but cycles in those great laws of the universe, where all is variable but the laws themselves and He who has ordained them.
Physical Geography (1848), Vol. 1, 2-3.
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Without birds to feed on them, the insects would multiply catastrophically. ... The insects, not man or other proud species, are really the only ones fitted for survival in the nuclear age. ... The cockroach, a venerable and hardy species, will take over the habitats of the foolish humans, and compete only with other insects or bacteria.
As quoted in obituary by Douglas Martin, New York Times (20 Jan 2005).
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… on these expanded membranes [butterfly wings] Nature writes, as on a tablet, the story of the modifications of species, so truly do all changes of the organisation register themselves thereon. Moreover, the same colour-patterns of the wings generally show, with great regularity, the degrees of blood-relationship of the species. As the laws of nature must be the same for all beings, the conclusions furnished by this group of insects must be applicable to the whole world.
From The Naturalist on the River Amazons: A record of Adventures, Habits of Animals, Sketches of Brazilian and Indian life, and Aspects of Nature under the Equator, During Eleven Years of Travel (1864), 413.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Sophie Germain
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- 90 -
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Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
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Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
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Karl Popper
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Avicenna
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
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Archimedes
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- 30 -
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Benjamin Franklin
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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Hippocrates
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Francis Bacon
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- 10 -
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Isaac Asimov
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