Invertebrate Fundamentals: What We Included And What We Left Out
Today marks the release of the eighth Faunalytics Fundamental, on Invertebrates. Creating these resources is always a humbling experience as Faunalytics’ Content Director, and there is a familiar feeling that haunts me throughout the production and publication process of each one: I thought I knew a lot about this topic, and I realize now how little I know.
In many ways, this is an exciting feeling to have. It means that I’m learning things that I didn’t know before, that my mind is expanding to take in new information and find new connections between topics and issues. It means that there are whole new worlds of knowledge to explore, and when it comes to invertebrates — comprising millions of species — that’s an understatement. However, it can also be a scary feeling. Learning about animals and animal issues often goes hand in hand with learning about how we exploit them for our own purposes. Opening up new pathways of knowledge about a single species, let alone a whole category of animals, means learning about the ways they are abused, mistreated, and threatened.
One thing that becomes clear when working on our Fundamentals series is that no category of animal is discreet and neatly siloed: the world of wild animals overlaps with the world of companion animals and research animals, and the world of farmed animals overlaps with the world of ocean life. Zoonoses commonly come from farmed animals, companion animals, and wild animals. Virtually all animal issues intersect with issues of social justice.
The vast world of Invertebrates is no exception. More invertebrates are farmed for food than any other animal on the planet — and that number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. Exotic invertebrates like tarantulas are kept as companion animals, and an untold number of insects are used in animal research. The oceans contain an unknown number of invertebrate species, including species that increasingly find themselves in human crosshairs, like octopi. And of course, invertebrates play an important role in the transmission of various zoonoses.
What We Included
Our Invertebrate Fundamentals looks at a range of issues that our team feels are the most salient for advocates to consider. In our resource, you’ll find:
- A broad discussion of different categories of invertebrates, with quick facts on pollinators, arachnids, and invertebrates from the land and sea.
- Public opinion on invertebrates, including a brief discussion of the debate over their sentience.
- A deep dive into the world of pollinators and their importance in a global ecosystem.
- A closer look at the variety of land and aquatic invertebrates, how they live, and threats they face.
- A look at the use of invertebrates in laboratory research.
- A look at entomophagy — the practice of insect eating, as well as their farming on a mass scale.
When you’re ready, you can click through to check out the full resource.
What We Left Out
When we consider a category of animals that comprises literally millions of species, it is inevitable that we must limit our discussion to the most vital points of interest. With invertebrates, this means leaving out a lot of interesting and important information for the sake of digestibility.
The first piece that would merit further discussion is a deeper discussion of invertebrate sentience, and the debate that continues to swirl around the topic. Because invertebrates are such a huge category of animals, the topic of sentience can be a bit confusing for the average person. While many people may recognize the sentience of — and even advocate on behalf of — invertebrates like octopuses, lobsters, and crabs, the issue gets muddied when we bring in invertebrates like fruit flies, worms, or others who we consider to be pests. In this sense, the debate over invertebrate sentience is actually a much broader range of sub-debates over the consciousness (or lack thereof) of innumerable species. Fortunately, there is a growing body of research looking at everything from how the philosophy of sentience is bound up in various conceptions of pain, what a precautionary approach to invertebrate sentience may mean for their rights (and our obligations towards them), and detailed reviews of the empirical evidence that exists on the topic. We hope that you find these external resources — as well as those contained in the Faunalytics Library — useful as you research further.
The second issue affecting invertebrates that could have received more attention from us is the issue of climate change, which will affect virtually all animals, everywhere. Though many invertebrate species are highly adaptable, that does not change the fact that they will be forced to adapt, or perish. A recent meta-analysis found that about 40% of insect species studied were in decline and at risk of extinction, mostly due to habitat change, which includes agricultural development, urbanization, and deforestation. The threats of climate change extend to the oceans, with reviews of climate effects on marine invertebrates finding a wide range of causes for concern. As with virtually all other animal issues, climate change is going to play a major factor in the coming years and decades — it is a topic that truly deserves its own entry in the Fundamentals series.
The third issue is one that we did touch on, but that goes much deeper than we have the space for: the farming of insects for food. It’s a topic that we’ve covered in some depth in the Faunalytics Library, and many people are looking towards “insect protein” as a potential “solution” to the problem of satisfying the protein needs of a growing global population. The global insect protein market in 2022 was worth over $428 million USD, and with an annual growth rate of about 27%, it’s expected to reach over $1.3 billion in the next few years. There are many obstacles standing in the way of the widespread adoption of insect proteins, especially cultural taboos in Western nations — but considering the industry already affects an estimated 1 trillion animals, even small shifts in cultural acceptance have the potential to affect trillions more.
These are just three of the most important issues that we hope to cover in depth in future updates. There are countless other issues affecting specific species of invertebrates, and we will continue to monitor research on invertebrate issues and add study summaries to our Library when it will help to inform advocates.
We hope you find our Invertebrate Fundamentals useful for your own education and in your advocacy efforts. As always, get in touch with us if you have suggestions for how we can improve this resource, or if you have ideas for future editions of our Fundamentals series.