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The Handy Bug Answer Book

by Dr. Gilbvert Waldbauer

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I love bugs. Allow me to refine that statement -- I love most arthropods (I'm not particularly interested in crustaceans). I've always been fascinated by the concept of alien species, lifeforms so radically different they force a new perspective on evolution as a problem-solver; fortunately, we don't have to leave the solar system (or the planet) to find a diverse sampling of new and interesting shapes and behaviors.

The Handy Bug Answer Book provides plenty of textual information on the life, behavior and characteristics of insects, in an interesting question-and-answer format. There are some illustrations, and sixteen color plates, but for the most part this is a book for reading, not looking at. Dr. Waldbauer, Professor Emeritus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Chapmpaign's Entomology Department has an easy-to-read style, and he certainly knows his bugs, as he provides the answers to close to a thousand burning questions on insect life.

Granted, a lot of the questions are leading: "Does any insect take in oxygen through its anus?" (Answer: Yes, dragonfly nymphs, which are aquatic). But for the most part, The Handy Bug Answer Book addresses several interesting issues that bug weirdoes like me have always pondered, like why dead insects are almost always found laying on their backs (their legs curl up and form an unstable base) or the details of how silk is made from silkworms (by unraveling their cocoons, made from a single strand that can be 3,600 feet long; the Chinese even have recipes for using the leftover pupa).

Not everyone is asking these questions, and certainly not everyone wants to know the answers, but The Handy Bug Answer Book is perfect for those intensely curious amateur entomologists. I should also recommend Alien Empire, Christopher O'Toole's beautifully photographed textbook on insect diversity. It's now out of print, but check your local megabookstore, as many still have copies.

--Ian Koss