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WICKED BUGS by Amy Stewart


The Louse that Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects

by Amy Stewart illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56512-960-3
Publisher: Algonquin

An illustrated compendium of facts about bugs behaving badly.

Journalist Stewart (Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, 2009, etc.), who blogs mainly on subjects of interest to gardeners, turns her focus to the evil that our fellow living things do to us and to each other. The book is not a comprehensive field guide but a smorgasbord of facts—ranging from horrible, painful or otherwise discomfiting—about bugs. Her subjects, beautifully illustrated by Morrow-Cribbs’ plentiful etchings, include well-known evil-doers like cockroaches, tent caterpillars, bed bugs and deer ticks, but also stranger critters. For example: the bullet ant of South America, whose bite is described as feeling like a gunshot; the chigoe flea, which does some very unpleasant business under human toenails; and the Formosan subterranean termite, which, plausibly, caused more damage to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina than wind and water. Stewart’s uncovers some eye-opening facts: Some of the bugs included here are not as bad as their reputations would have us believe: Two spiders, the black widow and brown recluse, for example, may have nasty bites, but they’re deadlier to each other than they are to humans. On the other hand, earthworms, about which Stewart has glowingly written before, are not always the little earth angels they appear to be, especially in the forests of Minnesota where they behave more like an invading foreign species than a native. (In fact, most American earthworms are descendants of a European species.) Stewart’s prose is simple and to the point. She lets the little horrors she describes work in the reader’s imagination without any hyperbolic help from her.

Guaranteed to cause sympathy itching and other discomfort.