Bugs – they’re everywhere and they consume some people

TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER/The Bookworm

Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart, c.2011, Algonquin $18.95 / $22.95 Canada 288 pages

You had some little visitors this morning at breakfast, and they weren’t exactly welcome.

To begin with, they had terrible manners. They weren’t polite enough to ring the doorbell before they barged in and they didn’t even wait for you to sit down before they started eating. So, because you never invited them to breakfast in the first place, you either gently ushered them out the door or you killed them.

What’s bugging you? Find out – if you dare – by reading the new book Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart.

Want to feel superior? Then think about this: you are much smarter than the ants, spiders, and beetles that live and lurk near your house. You outweigh them by a lot and you’re way bigger than they are. And bigger means stronger, right?

“If only that were true,” says Stewart. “In fact, insects have changed the course of history. They have halted soldiers in their tracks. They have driven farmers off their land. They have devoured cities and forests, and inflicted pain, suffering, and death upon hundreds of millions.”

In this book, she writes about them.

Take, for instance, bees, hornets and wasps. Getting stung is an annoyance (at best) and a life or death matter (at worst), so imagine dealing with an entire nest of ticked-off stingers flying over your head, courtesy of enemy catapults. Or imagine the buzz you’d get when downing “hornet juice,” an amino acid sports drink that mimics the aggression of the insects.

If you’re squeamish about creepy crawlies, you can skip this paragraph: bugs were used as a method of torture back in the early 1800s when two diplomats were tossed in a pit with ticks, lice, bugs, rotten meat, and manure. Relentless black flies can kill a large animal in a couple of hours. Persistent mosquitoes could drain half your blood faster than that.

On the other hand, though, creatures with more than four legs can be benign. Parasitic wasps munch on tomato hornworms. Spiders eat filthy, germ-spreading houseflies. Ladybugs will dine on aphids if you invite them into your garden.

But just don’t ask them on a road trip: a 2008 study showed that more than half a million British drivers have had car accidents directly or indirectly caused by bugs.

Are you a catch and release the-spider kind of person? Or do you suffer from Dead Insect Syndrome (in which you “respond to insects almost automatically by killing them.”)? Either way, you should fly to this book.

Author Amy Stewart gleefully makes readers shiver and scratch as she teaches us about biting spiders, hanging centipedes, egg-laying flies, and other bad-boy bugs. You’ll learn about the hot fad of beetle collecting in Darwin’s time, how termites played a role in the damage of Hurricane Katrina, and why you should never get too close to a gorilla’s private parts.

This book may make you shudder. It may make you say “Eeeeuuuuwww,” but you’ll be definitely fascinated. Wicked Bugs is, in fact, perfect for gardeners, ants and uncles, nature-lovers, and worms of the bookish sort.

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