Backbones are overrated: Why invertebrates deserve a break

Backbones are overrated: Why invertebrates deserve a break

‘There’s a reason the logo for WWF is a panda, not a horseshoe crab, and polar bears are the face of climate change, rather than coral reefs.’

Summer research scholar Katrin O’Donnell explains why we need people to care about the weird and wonderful invertebrate animals which make up the majority of the planet’s biomass, and her investigations into how invertebrate scientists around the world can engage with non-scientists and vice-versa.

97% of all animal species on Earth

Invertebrates are animals that neither have nor develop a vertebral column or spine. They comprise 97% of all animal species on Earth and they are incredibly important in almost every ecosystem imaginable.

However, if you ask a group of people about their favourite animal, you will be hard-pressed to find someone who names something without a spine.

It’s fair enough too. Vertebrates, especially mammals and birds, are far more charismatic than worms, bugs, barnacles, and the myriad of other invertebrate species that tend to go unnoticed.

There’s a reason the logo for WWF is a panda, not a horseshoe crab, and polar bears are the face of climate change, rather than coral reefs.

Shell
Marine snail, Ranella olearium (Linnaeus, 1758), collected off Mayor Island, New Zealand. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (M.083623)
Crab
King crab, Neolithodes brodiei Dawson & Yaldwyn, 1970, collected. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (CR.009839)
flies
Insects from the Hudson Collection, 2018. Photo by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa (109956)

Give invertebrates a chance

Invertebrates do deserve our attention!

As concerns about mass extinction increase, the fact that the majority of losses will be invertebrate species is seldom acknowledged.

Invertebrates are foundational in food webs and healthy ecosystems. They perform a vast array of important functions such as pollinating flowers, purifying fresh water, and spreading organic matter through soil.

Te Papa has a vast array of invertebrate specimens in its collections. Pictured here are land snail shells from the Greater Antilles and Florida, Beetles from Australia and the Pacific Islands, and Argonaut boord chambers from New Zealand. Te Papa

Take our survey to help

Given the weight that public opinion can have in the allocation of funding for conservation projects and scientific studies, public engagement with invertebrate science needs to be improved.

Most scientists working today recognise the need to strengthen their relationship with communities outside the scientific world, but the question of how best to engage with the public has proven difficult to answer.

This is especially true for scientists who don’t work within an institution dedicated to public outreach and education, such as Te Papa.

As such, researchers at Te Papa are carrying out a study about public engagement with invertebrate science. Part one of the project involved surveying scientists worldwide about how they try to make people interested in invertebrate animals.

We’re now getting part two underway! Through a survey, we want to hear what your knowledge and attitudes are towards invertebrate animals, and about your engagement with science communication.

Take the survey >

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