Buzz, Sting, Bite

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Buzz, Sting, Bite, by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, professor at Norwegian University of Life Sciences near Oslo and scientific advisor to the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, may sound like a title for children or young adults. However, the adult book informs the reader about half the animal kingdom as it looks at insects. Anne points out in her introduction that insects live in the Himalayas, in computers, in Yellowstone’s hot springs, and in the ears and nostrils of much larger creatures.  

Anne’s look this species is amusing and entertaining as well as informative. Nuisances turn out to require another look as blowflies cleanse hard-to-heal wounds, mealworms digest plastic, and scientists are currently evaluating whether cockroaches can be used for rescue work in collapsed and polluted buildings. The sloth ecosystem turns out to be much more interesting than I would ever have expected from such a slow animal. I won’t spoil it for you except to say it involves the sloth, a moth, and alga who all do each other a good turn. Then there is the pinhead-sized chocolate midge without which the cocoa flower would not pollinate, and where would we be without chocolate? 

I found great satisfaction in her stress on the importance of hollow oak trees since it validated my decision to keep the one in my back yard. In the rotting wood, live red velvet mites, pallid beetle babies, enormous scarabs, and tiny springtails. She claims that more individuals live in these ancient trees than there are human inhabitants in Oslo. 

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If this were a people movie instead of an insect book, the rating would be PG-13 if not R with its racy mating practices. While this book is a witty and enjoyable look at the animal world for adults, I just wonder if kids were told they weren’t old enough for it yet, how many of them would soon be enjoying an education about tiny animals.