Waldbauer (Entomology/Univ. of Illinois) loves bugs, and he wants you to love them, too. Or at least to be fascinated enough to stop and look before squashing them underfoot.
This thoroughly gratifying survey of that most successful animal group (now 400 million years old) is given both temporal and Darwinian perspectives. Starting with the optimistic swarm of spring, Waldbauer paints the landscape of each season, filling it with every manner of creature (though insects take center stage) and describing their evolutionary talents: how they find mates, how they find food, how they avoid being found as food for others. He never has to stretch for the fantastic or sensational example, for the insect world is one long, strange parade of curiosities: critters with ears on their legs, teeth on their genitals, the smell of carbona on their breath. Waldbauer gives the scoop on the tricks of a dead leaf butterfly, cracks the code of the cricket's chirp, tends bar for a boozing moth, shares the satin bowerbird's obsession with the color blue. In the process, he puts the entire ecological picture into context--the integrated community of interdependent organisms, in which we humans have no reason to feel superior. Without the pollinating and scavenging talents of our multilegged friends, we never would have made it here in the first place. And Waldbauer never skirts the rarefied stuff, giving the exceedingly complex notion of natural selection, for example, the elasticity it deserves and rarely gets, somehow putting it across with the clarity of an easy reader.
Waldbauer's wisdom is served up like a tantalizing tray of hors d'oeuvres, none of which will likely be declined. (22 line illustrations)