“Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects” by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson; © 2019, Simon & Schuster; 235 pages
You knew exactly where the mosquito was.
It was right next to midnight, and he was next to your ear, where you couldn’t slap him dead. This summer, it seems that if it’s not a mosquito, it’s a housefly. If not a housefly, then a gnat, a wasp, or any other six-legged visitor. Grrrrr, maybe it’s a good time to slap your hands on “Buzz, Sting, Bite” by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson.
Smack, slap, smash, spray. That pretty much describes your summer so far, as warm-weather creepy-crawlies invade your life. Ugh, so ponder this: bugs were here before you were, and they vastly outnumber you. Researchers say there are “more than 200 million insects for every human being … on the planet today.”
So what, exactly, is an insect?
Sverdrup-Thygeson says that a “good rule of thumb” is to count the legs, if you can. If you get to six and they’re attached to the creature’s midsection, it’s an insect. Arachnids, by the way, aren’t insects but that doesn’t stop entomologists (folks who study insects) from liking spiders.
There’s a lot to like, when it comes to insects.
Insects’ blood is yellow, for starters, which explains the gunk on your windshield. Bugs may have multiple eyes, which can be found anywhere, including on their private parts. Some insects have ears on their bodies or tongues on their feet; some have no mouth because they don’t live long enough to need one.
As if there aren’t enough bugs around, get this: insects are amazingly fecund and can reproduce quickly, laying thousands of eggs in a short time. With some exceptions, it’s a pretty safe bet that “every single ant, stinging wasp and honeybee you’ve ever seen was female,” says Sverdrup-Thygeson; lady insects, in fact, mostly call the shots in the bug world, they can store sperm and pick their offspring’s paternity, and they’ve been known to kill any mate who meets them.
Smash, slap, spray, swear, but we still need bugs. Without them, we’d be buried beneath dead creatures and dung. We’d live in squalor. Many of the world’s industries would die and, with nothing to pollinate our plants, so would we…
If, when presented with a book like “Buzz, Sting, Bite,” your first inclination is to shiver or flinch, give yourself a minute. Bugs are our buddies, and you need to repeat that. As you’ll read in this fascinating book, it’s actually true.
But it’s not just bugs you’ll find here. Because the crawlies don’t live in a vacuum, author Anne Sverdrup-Thuygeson also includes other critters in her run through our ecosystem, showing how bugs benefit other living things and vice versa. This symbiosis is highly interesting, as are the peeks into insect anatomy, bugs’ beds and bed bugs, and the dark side of bugdom — all told in a way that’s butterfly-light but seriously fun to read.
For sure, this is a book for armchair entomologists. It’s one for ecologists, too, and for curious folk who won’t flinch. Read “Buzz, Sting, Bite” and you’ll better appreciate what’s bugging you.