Dell Computer had $56 billion in sales during its last fiscal year. That amount, however, is less—by a billion—than the estimate of the value that bees, dung beetles and other insects bring every year to the U.S. economy. Cornell University entomologist Jon E. Losey and Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore., made the first ever estimate of “services” provided by wild insects in a study that appeared in the April issue of the journal Bioscience—one that the authors acknowledge is “very conservative”—only a small fraction of the actual benefits furnished by creatures considered by many to be mere pests. Without insects, the authors note, human life on earth would eventually be extinguished.

Value of crop production from pollination by native insects: $3 billion

Crop losses averted by beneficial insects from predation or parasitism of agricultural pests: $4.5 billion

Percent of native pests controlled by other insects: 65

Economic losses averted every year by burial of livestock waste by dung beetles: $380 million

Amount spent for hunting, fishing and observing wildlife that relies on insects as a food resource: $50 billion

Number of North American bird species that are primarily insectivores: 395

SOURCE: BioScience, April 2006