The above photo of “The World’s Most Badass Ladybug” was posted on Reddit, which I found as a great way to open the door for some great biological conversation!
While this bug may be in for an unexpectedly high (and probably fatal) ride, many insects do, in fact, travel quite high!
There is a billion-bug byway in the sky above your head, and you may not even know it! Some insects have been found as high as 19,000 feet! That’s higher than some private planes are allowed to fly, due to a need for pressurization!
Why do insects fly this high? The same reason you and I do: transportation! It’s possible that they even join the mile high club, just like humans, while airborne, but it’s probably a bit more difficult. Even spiders may throw out a piece of web to catch the breeze. Dispersion in the wind is a common tactic for many organisms to travel huge distances, which is how many pests for agriculture are spread! Tiny little bugs can travel much farther on a steady windstream than they could on foot.
Falling isn’t a problem for a little insect, as their surface area to body weight ratio is huge, allowing them to remain unscathed from falls that would kill a human easily.
Some estimates have put the number of sky-bound insects at over 3 billion a month over places like England in the summer! Other places have been estimated as high as 6 billion!
Let’s have some fun: if a ladybug weighs approximately 0.02 grams, and we assume most bugs weigh around the same, on average, that means that, over a month, there is 0.02 x 3,000,000,000 grams of bugs in the sky over a large city. This comes out to 60,000 kg (132,000 lbs) of insect biomass in the city air, about the same weight as a Bowhead whale.
This number may be large, but it is not surprising, especially when you consider that the total number of insects on Earth have been estimated by famed biologists such as E. O. Wilson as ten quintillion. That’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000, or, scientifically speaking: a metric shit-ton.