cover image INSIGHTS FROM INSECTS: What Bad Bugs Can Teach Us


Gilbert Waldbauer, . . Prometheus, $18 (260pp) ISBN 978-1-59102-277-0

The pop-biology premise that all of nature is a source of edification and delight has its limits tested in this engrossing—and quite gross—collection of essays on insect pests. Entomologist Waldbauer (What Good Are Bugs? ) profiles a rogue's gallery of unhealthful, unprofitable and unsavory creatures from the mosquito and house fly to an array of agricultural scourges. From their ingenious strategies for wreaking havoc and evading retribution from predators, toxic plant chemicals, insecticides and eradication programs, he gleans lessons about the Darwinian struggle for survival and the complex, easily upset balance of ecosystems. Waldbauer's lucid, engaging style, informed by accessible discussions of his and other scientists' research, maintains a lab-coated tone of interested objectivity. Still, there's a fine line between the wonder of life and the horror of life, and it's pretty much erased when Waldbauer writes of New England towns buried by gypsy moth caterpillars, reviews case studies of humans infested with flesh-eating screwworm maggots, or ticks off the list of insect parts the government tolerates in processed foods (tomato sauces can contain "thirty fly eggs, fifteen fly eggs and one maggot, or two maggots"). Readers may therefore find his lessons on how pests are eradicated—by siccing ladybug predators on them, stamping out their fertility with swarms of radiation-sterilized males or simply torching them with flame throwers—grimly satisfying indeed. Photos. (Mar.)