Extreme Bugs

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Extreme Bugs takes a magnifying glass to some of the most striking and bizarre insects imaginable. From the Madagascar moon moth and rainbow leaf beetle to mantids and the billygoat plum caterpillar, all of the insects featured here have spectacular colors, patterns, shapes, behavior, or other extreme characteristics.

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Extreme Bugs takes a magnifying glass to some of the most striking and bizarre insects imaginable. From the Madagascar moon moth and rainbow leaf beetle to mantids and the billygoat plum caterpillar, all of the insects featured here have spectacular colors, patterns, shapes, behavior, or other extreme characteristics.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060891473
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Series: Extreme Wonders Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Leslie Mertz, Ph.D., is a field biologist, educator, and science writer. She has authored numerous books and articles on the natural world and science.

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Read an Excerpt

Extreme Bugs

Chapter One

Natural Beauties

Insects may not be the first things that come to mind when describing an idyllic natural scene, but does anything quite put an exclamation point on a summer day like a marvelously colored butterfly fluttering down to alight gently on a wildflower or cap an evening like a ghostly and graceful moth perching motionless on a window screen? Almost any sweep through a meadow with an insect net will yield insects of nearly every color of the spectrum, in sizes ranging from microscopic to bean-sized and often even larger. Peer through a magnifying glass at the multifaceted eye of a dragonfly or the detail of an antenna and the exquisiteness of the insect world comes sharply into focus. The variety in wing patterns alone could take days to describe. The following pages provide a small sampling of the diverse insects that make their homes in diverse places around the globe. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but all of the insects listed here have spectacular colors, patterns, shapes, or other features that make them extreme pleasures to behold.

Butterfly Diversity

Large or small, plain or patterned, butterflies are usually at the top of the list of most beautiful insects. One that is often hailed as the world's most stunning is the blue morpho (Morpho didius). With a wing-span of about 7 inches (18 cm) and iridescent blue wings edged with deep brown, it dazzles in the rain forests of its native Central and South America. The color is so spectacular that pilots flying close to the trees can even spot cerulean flashes as the flapping wings catch the sunlight. The undersides ofthe wings are mainly a muted brown patterned with white, so at rest, when the wings are folded closed and only the undersides show, the morpho blends into the surrounding trees. Even when airborne, as it opens and shuts its wings, it reveals only quick glimpses of blue. Combined with its weaving flight, the here-and-gone blue wings make the butterfly quite difficult for a person, or for a would-be predator, to track through the forest.

A Rainbow of Hues

Another colorful and striking butterfly is South America's Apollo metalmark (Lyropteryx apollonia). Like those of many other metalmark species in its family, portions of its wings are reflective. In this species, the wings display alternating, thin black and shimmering turquoise stripes radiating from the body to the tips of its wings. The base of each lower wing sports a bright pink dot. The undersides of the wings mimic the topsides, but the bases are crowded with pink spots.

Many other butterflies have wings with a surprisingly different appearance from one side to the other. One is the South American species known by its scientific name of Callicore hesperis. From above, the wings are black with wide gleaming sapphire and cherry streaks. On the underside, the front wing is black with a cherry streak, but also flaunts a cream-colored bar and a thin ribbon of sky blue. The underside of the hind wing is black streaked with cream and a bit of blue, and dotted with pops of white outlined in baby blue.

Gorgeous butterflies extend beyond the Southern Hemisphere. An example of a North American head-turner is the California sister (Adelpha bredowii), a butterfly of the western United States. With a 2.5 to 3.5 inch (6.4–8.9 cm) wingspan, it draws notice. The upper surfaces of its dark-chocolate wings showcase a thick, incomplete, cream-colored stripe in the center, and a few more dapples of cream lying along a bright orange splash on the tip of the forewing. The underside has the same flaming orange patch, but the similarity ends there. Lilac blue, orange, and light tan markings mingle with brown to create a swirling pattern.

The Swallowtails

A listing of lovely butterflies would hardly be complete without mention of the swallowtails. Nearly every one of the more than 600 species worldwide could qualify as one of the planet's most attractive. Nearly all of the members of this family have ample wings, as well as projections extending from the ends of their hind wings. Those with the longest projections call to mind the sweeping tail feathers of swallows and give this group of butterflies its common name. Some of the most stunning U.S. species include the giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) with its ebony and bold-yellow wings, the zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) with roughly the same pattern as its namesake, and the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) with midnight-black forewings and iridescent blue hind wings. The giant swallowtail and its wingspan that can stretch up to 5.5 inches (14 cm) wide make it the largest of the three. The other two species have wingspans of about 3.4 to 3.5 inches (8.6–8.9 cm).

Moth Diversity

Although moths can have exquisitely hued wings and sometimes enormous size, they do not garner the same admiration as butterflies. Part of the reason is their preference for the night. Unless a large one lands on a lighted window, people roundly ignore these mainly after-hours insects. Two North American species, however, have attained star status: the cecropia moth and the polyphemus moth.

Nighttime Enchanters

With a wingspan of about half a foot (15 cm), the cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is the largest on the continent. Its olive-colored wings each display an ivory-and-orange crescent moon, and the outer margin is detailed in peach, white, and olive markings. A large dark eyespot—so called because it is thought to resemble a large eye—adorns the front of each leading wing. Like many moths, and unlike butterflies, the cecropia has a plump, furry-looking body and feathery antennae and rests with its wings outspread. Its body size is accentuated by a blanket of white and orange-red hair. Butterflies have nonfuzzy and svelter bodies and thin antennae, each one usually tipped with a small knob. In addition, most butterflies rest with their wings folded in an upright position, which leaves only the undersides of their wings visible.

Extreme Bugs. Copyright © by Leslie Mertz. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2008

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    A beautiful book with great information. Love it!

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