Saving the World's Spineless

Scientists Gather to Talk Insect Conservation Strategy

Giant Land Crab

The invertebrate Cardisoma guanhumi lives in fields, swamps and mangrove thickets. Piotr Naskrecki hide caption

itoggle caption Piotr Naskrecki
Piotr Naskrecki

Piotr Naskrecki, director of the Invertebrate Diversity Initiative at Conservation International. Gisele Grayson, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Gisele Grayson, NPR

To be considered "spineless" is an insult. Worms and insects are spineless. For many biologists, however, these are the very best of the animal world. Yet the invertebrates get no respect. They're usually well down the list of species given protection from extinction, and some scientists say it's time to give the spineless their due.

Harvard's Piotr Naskrecki studies the mind-boggling variety of insects. They and the other invertebrates — crustaceans, worms, shellfish, spiders — outnumber vertebrates by a long shot. But the forests, shorelines and grasslands where they live are being paved and ploughed. Scientists such as Naskrecki are racing to find and describe rare invertebrates before they disappear. NPR's Christopher Joyce talks with Naskrecki and other scientists who gathered last week at the American Museum of Natural History in New York for a meeting on conservation strategy.

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