The Sting of the Wild

Justin O. Schmidt. Johns Hopkins Univ, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4214-1928-2
Whether he’s kicking over anthills or chewing on velvet mites, Schmidt (Insect Defenses), an entomologist at the University of Arizona, evinces a childlike mix of gleeful fascination and terror-induced bravery as he subjects himself to stinging insects in the name of science. After some general discussion about the differences between chemicals that cause pain and those that cause physical damage, Schmidt covers key species of ants, wasps, and bees with such colorful names as “tarantula hawk” and “cow killer.” He describes their evolution, life cycles, social habits, offenses and defenses, predator-prey relationships, and—most importantly—their often antagonistic relationships with humans. Schmidt claims that “getting stung by the same species gets boring after a while,” and he presents more than enough evidence for readers to want to take his word for it. The Schmidt Pain Index (for which the author was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 2015) puts the stings of a variety of species on a four-point scale, with sensuous descriptions worthy of a connoisseur: the bite of Platythyrea lamellose (“a purplish ant”) is “like wearing a wool jumpsuit laced with pine needles and poison ivy,” while the sting of the western yellow jacket is “hot and smoky, almost irreverent.” Schmidt’s tales will prove infectiously engaging even to entomophobes. Color photos. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/14/2016
Release date: 03/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-4214-1929-9
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