Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A vegan view on insects

Q.  I am wondering how other vegetarians and vegans feel about bugs--specifically spiders. I am trying to find equality in all animals and living things, but am having a hard time with bugs and spiders. I am wondering how others respond to them?

A. It may help to think about the ways our lives depend on insects. Most people are aware of the role pollinators (such as bees, wasps, fruit or bottle flies, and butterflies) play in producing the food we eat, but what about other insects? Soil-dwelling bugs (such as ants, beetles, and even some roaches) aerate the soil with their burrows. Nesting and scavenging insects break down waste material and add valuable compost to soil. Basically, healthy insect life is essential to healthy plant life, and healthy plant life is essential to healthy human life.

Insects that aren’t involved in the cycle of plant life still play an important role for humans. Spiders, for example, may save your life. How? Spiders are a primary predator of mosquitoes; mosquitoes are the major transmission vehicle for several potentially fatal diseases, including malaria, West Nile virus, and dengue fever.

It may also help to learn more about the species that trouble you. Spiders, in particular, are amazing creatures and incredibly diverse. The diving bell spider creates a bubble of air to allow it to travel underwater. The raft spider can actually walk on water! Though spiders have long been thought of as predators, scientists recently found that the Bagheera kiplingi spider is vegetarian. Whip spiders caress and pet their family members. While some spiders may have a frightening appearance, others are quite beautiful. The golden silk orb-weaver (also called a banana spider) has beautiful coloration ranging from yellow to gold, overlayed with intricate patterns in white.

Banana spiders have lovely,
intricate patterns on their abdomens

Dispelling the myths is important too. While all true spiders are venomous, of the approximately 40,000 named species, only twelve have venom that’s dangerous to humans. Nowhere are all twelve resident in the same place. For example, only the brown recluse, black widow, and hobo spider are found in the U.S. Generally, the spiders that are potentially dangerous to humans remain outdoors.

While most common household insects are harmless to humans, there are a few that can be troublesome. For example, red imported fire ants are a problem throughout much of the southern United States. Their bite is painful for most, and serious allergic reactions are not uncommon. Bees and wasps, while vital pollinators, can also cause serious allergic reactions in some. Cockroaches, in addition to carrying germs that can lead to disease (mostly stomach viruses) have also been shown to be harmful to people with allergies and asthma. And even for those insects, such as spiders, that are unlikely to cause harm to humans, most people don’t like sharing their homes with them.

What if unwanted insects are making a home in your house? Most respondents to this question on TDIV’s Facebook page agreed that a catch-and-release method is preferable when possible. Simply place a cup or jar over the insect, then slide a sheet of paper or thin cardboard underneath the cup. Then release the insect outdoors. You could also consider buying a bug vacuum, which sucks the bug into a tube, allowing you to safely release it.

But there is much you can do to prevent insects from entering your home. Keep windows screened. Weatherstrip doors so there are no openings between the bottom of the door and the doorsill. Close gaps around water pipes under sinks, and seal cracks and openings in the house. Pay particular attention to sealing outside storage areas and covering piles of firewood. See PETA’s helpful hints for dealing with ants, wasps and bees, and roaches (click the navigation on the right).

Some respondents did choose to kill insects that invaded their home. Is this out of line with a vegan lifestyle? Consider that insects lack the neurological systems necessary to experience pain. If veganism is defined as a lifestyle which seeks to eliminate the exploitation and suffering of living creatures, and killing an insect causes no suffering and is not done for exploitative purposes, one could certainly make the argument that it is not an un-vegan act. It is a matter of personal conscience, and no one should judge another for the choice they make.

(Authored by me, originally published at


  1. Even if it's true that insects don't feel pain, I personally don't think that's sound reasoning to come to the conclusion that there's "no suffering" involved.

    Anybody who has tried to kill an insect can see that they have a natural drive to live and not be killed. An insect doesn't just sit there while a shoe comes down on it, or a newspaper is swatted at it; it tries to run away to preserve its life and continue to live.

    Insects & spiders are a crucial part of the web of life (no pun intended :) and it might help anybody who has an aversion to them to keep this mind. Jonas Salk, who discovered the first effective polio vaccine, said, "If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish".

    Perhaps the aversion some people have is due to the fact that they just don't know much about insects & spiders. If so, they can start out by checking out this page for some interesting info on spiders:

    Beyond insects & spiders having a natural drive to live and not be killed, we can see here that spiders not only have mating & courtship rituals, they even nurture & care for their young: they protect their egg sacs "by attaching them to their webs, hiding them in nests, carrying them in the chelicerae or attaching them to the spinnerets and dragging them along", and "some spiders care for their young, for example a wolf spider's brood cling to rough bristles on the mother's back,and females of some species respond to the "begging" behaviour of their young by giving them their prey".

    To find out more about how humans and all life on earth are dependent upon insects, please see:

    or just google "how are humans dependent on insects".

    So, a personal plea from myself and all insects & spiders is to please take a little bit of time to learn more about them if you have an aversion to them. And also to keep in mind that just because a creature doesn't feel pain, it doesn't mean that it doesn't want to live. :)


    1. Personally, I agree with you, and I do hope that came across as the main point of the article. (I'm the designated wasp and spider catcher at home and at work.) However, I presented the information on insects and pain as the counter-argument for those vegans who disagree.

      And I have to confess, I will swat a mosquito that lands on my arm. If I had to resort to poison to keep fire ants away from my home and my severely allergic son, or to keep cockroaches out of my house and away from my asthmatic family, I would. I would certainly try humane deterrents first, of course. I value and appreciate insect life, but personally, my nonviolence doesn't extend to the risk of immediate harm to myself or my family.