What Good Are Bugs?

Overview

We shriek about them, slap and spray them, and generally think of insects (when we think of them at all) as pests. Yet, if all insects, or even a critical few, were to disappear--if there were none to pollinate plants, serve as food for other animals, dispose of dead organisms, and perform other ecologically essential tasks--virtually all the ecosystems on earth, the webs of life, would unravel. This book, the first to catalogue ecologically important insects by their roles, gives us an enlightening look at how ...

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Overview

We shriek about them, slap and spray them, and generally think of insects (when we think of them at all) as pests. Yet, if all insects, or even a critical few, were to disappear--if there were none to pollinate plants, serve as food for other animals, dispose of dead organisms, and perform other ecologically essential tasks--virtually all the ecosystems on earth, the webs of life, would unravel. This book, the first to catalogue ecologically important insects by their roles, gives us an enlightening look at how insects work in ecosystems--what they do, how they live, and how they make life as we know it possible.

In What Good Are Bugs? Gilbert Waldbauer combines anecdotes from entomological history with insights into the intimate workings of the natural world, describing the intriguing and sometimes amazing behavior of these tiny creatures. He weaves a colorful, richly textured picture of beneficial insect life on earth, from ants sowing their "hanging gardens" on Amazonian shrubs and trees to the sacred scarab of ancient Egypt burying balls of cattle dung full of undigested seeds, from the cactus-eating caterpillar (aptly called Cactoblastis) controlling the spread of the prickly pear to the prodigious honey bee and the "sanitary officers of the field"--the fly maggots, ants, beetles, and caterpillars that help decompose and recycle dung, carrion, and dead plants. As entertaining as it is informative, this charmingly illustrated volume captures the full sweep of insects' integral place in the web of life.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe

Persuasive, rollicking, and informative...He may not get you to hug your termites, but you will see them in a whole new light. Bugs are truly awesome in numbers and variety...On the surface, bugs seem so alien to us. But in anecdote after anecdote, Waldbauer gives us plenty with which we can identify...Waldbauer celebrates not only the good things bugs do but also the bizarre...What Waldbauer shows us is that bugs are vitally important to our planet. They help plant life grow. They are great cleanup crews, removing waste material...They till and aerate soil. They provide food for all kinds of animals, including fish and birds and some mammals...Clearly, bugs are good.
— Vicki Croke

Sunday Telegraph (UK)

This book will open the eyes of readers who, like the great majority of mankind, regard insects with contempt or disgust. It will make them look on our six-legged fellow creatures with more interest and sympathy, and will thus add a new dimension to their own lives.
— Anthony Daniels

BBC Wildlife

Written in a gentle style that is easy to read yet still authoritative, the breadth of insect ecology is paraded before us.
— Richard Jones

Science News
Waldbauer is an entomologist with an unwavering verve for his pursuits. Here he catalogs ecologically important insects by their 'occupations' within an ecosystem, explaining how they live and how they make possible life in general. Among insects' occupations are their roles in regulating plant and animal populations and tilling the soil. In some cases, their capabilities and behaviors are nothing short of mind-boggling. Waldbauer reports that one species of Great Plains ants has brought to the surface about 1.7 tons of subsoil per acre. An average colony of honeybees harvests 44 pounds of pollen and 265 pounds of nectar a year. Such anecdotes combine with the author's keen insight into the mechanics of ecosystems to make a strong case on behalf of the lowly insect.
Southeastern Naturalist

Waldbauer gives us a bugs-eye view of the world in this well-written and entertaining book that will change the way you think about insects.
— B.F.

Boston Globe - Vicki Croke
Persuasive, rollicking, and informative...He may not get you to hug your termites, but you will see them in a whole new light. Bugs are truly awesome in numbers and variety...On the surface, bugs seem so alien to us. But in anecdote after anecdote, Waldbauer gives us plenty with which we can identify...Waldbauer celebrates not only the good things bugs do but also the bizarre...What Waldbauer shows us is that bugs are vitally important to our planet. They help plant life grow. They are great cleanup crews, removing waste material...They till and aerate soil. They provide food for all kinds of animals, including fish and birds and some mammals...Clearly, bugs are good.
Sunday Telegraph (UK) - Anthony Daniels
This book will open the eyes of readers who, like the great majority of mankind, regard insects with contempt or disgust. It will make them look on our six-legged fellow creatures with more interest and sympathy, and will thus add a new dimension to their own lives.
BBC Wildlife - Richard Jones
Written in a gentle style that is easy to read yet still authoritative, the breadth of insect ecology is paraded before us.
Southeastern Naturalist - B.F.
Waldbauer gives us a bugs-eye view of the world in this well-written and entertaining book that will change the way you think about insects.
Boston Globe
Persuasive, rollicking, and informative...He may not get you to hug your termites, but you will see them in a whole new light. Bugs are truly awesome in numbers and variety...On the surface, bugs seem so alien to us. But in anecdote after anecdote, Waldbauer gives us plenty with which we can identify...Waldbauer celebrates not only the good things bugs do but also the bizarre...What Waldbauer shows us is that bugs are vitally important to our planet. They help plant life grow. They are great cleanup crews, removing waste material...They till and aerate soil. They provide food for all kinds of animals, including fish and birds and some mammals...Clearly, bugs are good.
— Vicki Croke
BBC Wildlife
Written in a gentle style that is easy to read yet still authoritative, the breadth of insect ecology is paraded before us.
— Richard Jones
Sunday Telegraph (UK)
This book will open the eyes of readers who, like the great majority of mankind, regard insects with contempt or disgust. It will make them look on our six-legged fellow creatures with more interest and sympathy, and will thus add a new dimension to their own lives.
— Anthony Daniels
Southeastern Naturalist
Waldbauer gives us a bugs-eye view of the world in this well-written and entertaining book that will change the way you think about insects.
— B.F.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674016323
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/25/2004
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 0.79 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Gilbert Waldbauer is Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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Table of Contents

Macrocosm

Helping Plants

1. Pollinating

2. Dispersing Seeds

3. Supplying Food

4. Providing Defense

Helping Animals

5. Giving Sustenance

6. Giving Protection

Limiting Population Growth

7. Controlling Plant Populations

8. Controlling Insect Populations

9. Controlling Vertebrate Populations

Cleaning Up

10. Recycling Dead Animals

11. Recycling Dung

12. Recycling Dead Plants

Microcosm

Selected Readings

Acknowledgments

Index

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