There are over 7 billion people on Earth. That's a heck of a lot.
But if you think 7 billion is a lot, try 10 quintillion.
Yes, there are over 10 quintillion insects on this planet.
With insects being so small and us so large, most of us get by without this number overwhelming us.
But insects were not always this small. 315 million years ago - insects were GIANT.
Let's rewind to the Carboniferous period and meet the Meganeura - a relative of the modern Dragonfly.
The Meganeura was the size of a pigeon.
It had a wingspan of about 70cm.
In comparison, the modern Dragonfly has a wingspan of 5 - 12 cm.
However, it wasn't just the insects that were giant. I mean, we can wrap our heads around a pigeon-sized dragonfly-like being.
It's the giant 2-metre-long millipedes that both amaze us and give us the heebie-jeebies.
Yep, a 2-metre-long millipede. Can you imagine the legs on this thing?
Now now, we know what you're thinking. How did these living beings get SO huge and why doesn't nature make 'em like that anymore?
Our atmosphere today is 21% oxygen.
However, back in the day, this number used to be a whopping 35%!
Because the Carboniferous period was a time of rapid plant growth. It wasn't just the insects & other invertebrates that were ginormous.
The plants were too.
There were huge & tall forests of various types of mosses and ferns.
The booming plant life would suck out the carbon dioxide & pump the air with oxygen.
However, this notable oxygen difference was NOT only due to the sizable forests.
It was also due to the lack of wood-eating bacteria and fungi.
Let us explain.
Today, when a tree dies, wood-eating bacteria and fungi decompose it. As a result, the carbon stored in the tree is released back into the environment.
However, the same was not true in the Carboniferous period. The wood-eating bacteria hadn't come into existence yet.
Thus, when a tree died, it would fall onto the forest floor. But, it wouldn't decompose. The carbon stored in the tree would not be released back into the atmosphere. Thus oxygen levels rose & carbon dioxide levels fell.
The lack of wood-eating microorganisms meant that the dead tree would simply get buried by the subsequent plant life that died and fell over it.
This resulted in the formation of a layer called peat. With the aid of geological forces of heat and pressure, the peat turned into coal.
In fact, most of the coal that we depend on today was created during this period.
Fascinating, isn't it?
The intensely oxygen-rich atmosphere made giant insects possible!
Shifts in the Earth's climate, the appearance of wood-eating bacteria, and other factors resulted in shrinking O2 levels and increasing CO2 levels. As a result, these giant insect species went extinct & were replaced by insects of more comprehensible sizes.
And to be honest, whether 2 metres or a few cm in size, we love our bugs.
They pollinate trees & bushes, play a role in decomposing wood & maintain the overall health of the forest.
Without them, biodiversity as we know it wouldn't exist.
Without them, you and I wouldn't exist.
P.S - Insects get a bad rep, but we're here to change that. If you're in the market for nature-inspired eco-friendly clothing, look no further.
With its autumnal colours, crunchy leaves & cute little bugs - the Born To Fly men & women's shirts will sure as hell make you feel forest-y!