Thousands of species of insects can be found in the northwest boreal forest. Like plant and animal species, insect species in the north become less diverse the further north one travels. All insects are characterized by their lack of a backbone, external skeleton, and a segmented body with jointed legs. As insects grow, they must moult, that is, they must shed the external skeleton they have outgrown and develop a new one.
Insects in the boreal forest have adapted to northern life by engaging in patterns of hibernation or inactivity during the winter months, and by producing large numbers of offspring during the short summer season. Insects can be either the custodians or destroyers of the boreal forest, depending on the species. Many insects serve a vital function in the boreal forest by aiding in the process of decomposition of dead matter, and making room for new growth in old growth areas. Insects, however, can also be destructive, with some species attacking healthy trees and killing them in areas that can sometimes span several thousand hectares. Despite their small size, the insects of the boreal forest can have a significant impact on the health of the northwest woodlands.
Even the smallest of creatures did not escape the notice of some traditional hunters and trappers in the northwest, and observations of insect behavior could lead to seeking out those insects for use. Ants provided some important services to Aboriginal trappers. Their large anthills could be hollowed out and stocked with bait, acting as enclosures for traps. Passing animals that wanted to get at the bait would be forced to crawl into the enclosure to get at the food, only to be forced over a trap and snared.
Ants played a tandem role with blowflies in the process of bone cleaning, as described in the following excerpt from Terry Garvin’s book, Carving Faces, Carving Lives:
A blowfly seeks out rotted animal or bird flesh to lay their eggs in. Maggots born of the eggs eat the dead flesh from animal bones. If a maggot infested bone is placed on an anthill, the ants will remove the maggots, which in turn will spur blowflies to lay more eggs in the remaining flesh. This process continues until the bones are cleaned of flesh. Cleaned bones may be used as utensils or tools. Aboriginal Peoples used this process to clean animal parts when they wanted bone material.
It was claimed by some northern trappers that bees could play a small role as a pacifier for babies. Beehives were saved and placed close to where a baby was cradled. The drone of the bees would help to calm the child.