The arthropoda phylum is made up of countless invertebrate animal species, each one of which possesses a segmented body contained within an exoskeleton. Arthropods include all species of insects, arachnids, centipedes, millipedes, crustaceans and more, which makes it the largest phylum in the animal kingdom. In other words, all the creepy-crawly creatures in the world can be referred to as “arthropods.” In addition to making the earth livable for virtually all forms of vertebrate life, many arthropod species are economically beneficial to humans. For example, bees alone pollinate more than 30 percent of all the food humans eat, and honey bees are responsible for producing honey, wax, propolis, royal jelly, and other profitable goods. Silk worms are raised on an industrial scale so that their silk can be harvested for the manufacturing of clothing, furniture upholstery, bedding, parachutes, bicycle tires, and many other goods. Arthropods not only contribute to economic prosperity, but humans literally owe their existence to the ecologically essential services they provide. Despite this, most people are only concerned with arthropods that are economically harmful pests, such as cockroaches, termites, flies, biting ants, ticks, and of course, “murder hornets.”

While only 79 of the more than 3,000 documented termite species worldwide are pests that damage structural wood within homes and buildings, termite pests inflict more than five billion dollars in structural damage annually in the US alone. One recent study calculated the worldwide economic cost of invasive insect pest activity to exceed 70 billion dollars annually, with only one invasive termite species being responsible for nearly half of this cost. Invasive arthropod pests in Massachusetts include brown marmorated stink bugs, Asian lady beetles, Asian tiger mosquitoes and more. The invasive Asian longhorned tick was first identified in the US two years ago, and it’s now found in most Northeastern states, but not yet in Massachusetts. Medical costs resulting from hazardous encounters with venomous arthropods like European fire ants and northern black widows, as well as with disease-spreading arthropods like mosquitoes and ticks, reach into the many billions of dollars every year. However, a 2006 study found that the annual economic value of “wild” arthropod pest activity in the US amounts to 60 billion dollars, and this does not include profits made from the mass rearing of insects. This calculation only took into account the economic value that results from four ecologically beneficial arthropod behaviors including dung burial, predatory pest control, pollination, and wildlife nutrition. The annual 60 billion dollars in ecologically valuable services that beneficial insects provide exceeds the annual economic cost of arthropod pest activity in the country.

Do you think that termites are likely the most economically costly arthropod pests in most other parts of the world?