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"Insects get a bum rap." So says world-renowned entomologist Gilbert Waldbauer, whose enthusiasm and engrossing writing on the subject of insects have been praised by the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, and many other prestigious publications. In this fascinating, beautifully illustrated book, Dr. Waldbauer explains that the "bum rap" is mainly due to the small percentage of bugs that are a nuisance or harmful to humanity, the pests that make up less than 2 percent of all insects. He profiles twenty such "troublesome bugs," showing how the study of these creatures has led scientists to many basic discoveries that have enhanced our understanding of life.
The reader learns how an American entomologist was awarded France’s gold medal of honor for rescuing the French wine industry from destruction by the aphid-like "grape phylloxera"; how the World Health Organization almost completely eradicated malaria through the use of DDT before the insect adapted to the insecticide and became resistant; how some insects disguise themselves to avoid detection; how others survive the subzero temperatures of winter; why some flies have a uterus and a mammary gland; and many more strange and tantalizing true tales about these wonderful, troublesome "pests"—pests that have taught us vital lessons about survival, nature, and the environment.
A natural storyteller, Dr. Waldbauer has written a bug book that you won’t be able to put down. Whether you relish every story from cover to cover or thumb through to find your "favorite," most resourceful insects, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for the marvelous tiny creatures that are essential to the web of life.
The pop-biology premise that all of nature is a source of edification and delight has its limits tested in this engrossing-and quite gross-collection of essays on insect pests. Entomologist Waldbauer (What Good Are Bugs?) profiles a rogue's gallery of unhealthful, unprofitable and unsavory creatures from the mosquito and house fly to an array of agricultural scourges. From their ingenious strategies for wreaking havoc and evading retribution from predators, toxic plant chemicals, insecticides and eradication programs, he gleans lessons about the Darwinian struggle for survival and the complex, easily upset balance of ecosystems. Waldbauer's lucid, engaging style, informed by accessible discussions of his and other scientists' research, maintains a lab-coated tone of interested objectivity. Still, there's a fine line between the wonder of life and the horror of life, and it's pretty much erased when Waldbauer writes of New England towns buried by gypsy moth caterpillars, reviews case studies of humans infested with flesh-eating screwworm maggots, or ticks off the list of insect parts the government tolerates in processed foods (tomato sauces can contain "thirty fly eggs, fifteen fly eggs and one maggot, or two maggots"). Readers may therefore find his lessons on how pests are eradicated-by siccing ladybug predators on them, stamping out their fertility with swarms of radiation-sterilized males or simply torching them with flame throwers-grimly satisfying indeed. Photos. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Gilbert Waldbauer is professor emeritus in the entomology department at the University of Illinois and the author of the highly acclaimed What Good Are Bugs?, The Handy Bug Answer Book, and Millions of Monarchs.