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Insect Poop in the Ecosystem

Why Insect Poop is Important for the Environment


Frass makes the world go 'round, in some important ways. Insects take the world's waste, digest it, and poop out something useful.

Scientists discovered a link between the rainforest canopy and the forest floor – insect poop! Millions of insects inhabit the treetops, munching away on leaves and other plant parts. All those insects also poop, covering the ground below with their frass. Microbes go to work decomposing the frass, releasing nutrients back into the soil. Trees and other plants need the nutrient rich soil to thrive.

Some insects, like termites and dung beetles, serve as primary decomposers in their ecosystems. Termite digestive systems are chock full of microbes capable of breaking down stubborn cellulose and lignin from wood. Termites and other wood eating insects do the hard part, then pass the significantly decomposed plant bits on to secondary decomposers through their frass. An enormous percentage of forest biomass passes through insect guts, on its way to becoming new soil.

And how about rotting carcasses and animal dung? Insects help break down all the nasty bits in the environment, and turn them into something much less objectionable – frass.

Most insect poop isn't large enough to contain whole seeds, but poop from big grasshoppers called "wetas" is an exception to that rule. Scientists found the wetas, which live in New Zealand, can poop viable fruit seeds. In fact, the seeds found in weta frass germinate better than seeds which simply fall to the ground. Since the wetas move, they carry the fruit seeds to new locations, helping trees spread throughout the ecosystem.

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