cover image Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects

Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects

Jonathan Balcombe. Penguin, $18 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-143134-27-5

Biologist Balcombe (What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins) fascinates with this deep dive into the world of flies, which some scientists contend is the largest and most diverse order. In often humorous prose, starting with a depiction of his own discovery that his body had been infiltrated by maggots on a research trip to South Africa, Balcombe reveals the intricate hidden world of these insects, generally dismissed as buzzing, biting pests. Through oft-bizarre examples, Balcombe surveys fly life cycles (the delicate mountain midge lives only two hours), diets (another midge eats only “termites captured by one kind of Amazonian comb-footed spider”), and reproductive methods (the honeymoon fly continually copulates for 56 hours). Balcombe also looks at the multifaceted relationship between humans and flies, which are not only vectors of diseases, but can provide evidence in homicides, a forensic method first used in 10th-century China. In vivid prose, Balcombe perfectly illustrates the complexity of the natural world. Armchair naturalists will find this a stunning and welcome complement to similar volumes such as The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild or The Soul of an Octopus. Photos. Agent: Stacey Glick, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (May)