cover image What Bugged the Dinosaurs?: Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceous

What Bugged the Dinosaurs?: Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceous

George O. Poinar, JR., Roberta Poinar. Princeton University Press, $29.95 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-691-12431-5

Horseflies, mosquitos, blackflies-they certainly bug people, but is it possible they caused the death of the dinosaurs through factors like ""the cumulative, cascading effects of many diseases""? The Poinars, both research scientists, follow up their study of organisms preserved in amber (1999's The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World) with a detailed study of insects' role in the life and extinction of Cretaceous plants and animals. In scientific but straightforward language, the Poinars advance convincingly the thesis that insects acted as vectors for pathogens, spreading bacteria, fungi and viruses to plants as well as dinosaurs, who then passed it on to others. Amazingly, evidence of these pathogens can be found within amber-entombed insects, providing ""a picture of life 145.5 to 65.5 million years ago when insects and dinosaurs competed... and suffered from parasites and newly evolving diseases."" Using current examples like Dutch elm disease, speculative scenarios of Cretaceous life and plenty of research data, the authors add an intriguing new dimension to the dinosaur apocalypse narrative: ""periods of temperature change, marine regression, volcanic eruptions, and one or more meteor impacts.... a perfect setting for the spread of diseases."" Color and line illus.