A fun introduction to the world of insects.
They have existed for some 479 million years; have (mostly) six legs, four wings, two antennae, and a three-segment body; make up over half of known multicellular species; and number 200 million for every single human being living on the planet today. Indeed, we live on the planet of insects, and Sverdrup-Thygeson (Conservation Biology/Norwegian Univ. of Life Sciences) brings it to life in this sharp, good-humored presentation. Why are there so many insects? “Put simply: because they are small, supple, and sexy.” It also helps that they can live nearly anywhere, including ice, hot springs, deep in caves, high on mountains, in baptismal fonts, and even your nostrils. The range of species runs from the tinkerbell wasp, which can land on the tip of a human hair and hardly make a disturbance, to the Chinese walking stick, which grows up to 2 feet in length. Insects are a fascinating topic, and the author milks their peculiarities for all they are worth: molting and metamorphosis, communication through scent, tasting with feet, seeing with knees, and listening through ears in their mouths. But the curios are only part of the bigger picture that situates insects in the great schemes of pollination, decomposition, soil formation, food for other creatures, keeping harmful organisms in check, dispersing seed, and even demonstrating solutions to problems that humans can adopt. In other words, insects could get along happily without humans, but humans could not survive without insects. The author’s panoptic investigation keeps the narrative fully engaging as she alternates between anecdotes about specific insects—the aggressive mimicry of the spotted predatory katydid, the cicadas that “dig their way down—down into seventeen years of darkness”—to richly telling slices of science—e.g., the causes of decline in insect numbers.
A classy and brightly informative appreciation of insects—all you could ask for in a popular natural history.