“Insights from Insects: What Bad Bugs Can Teach Us” by Gilbert Waldbauer

(This is a book review by the Entomologist Lounge)

book imageThere is so much about the author as it is about the book. Dr Gilbert Waldbauer is a Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA. Waldbauer writes many books post-retirement, with his aim to popularise entomology and to make it readily accessible to general reader, while keeping it scientifically sound and informative at the same time. Insights from Insects takes its readers to explore entomology’s “Most Wanted List”, from disease carriers to crop destroyers, and important lessons we should learn from the insect world.


What we can learn from this book:

In this book, Waldbauer dedicates a chapter to each one of the world’s 20 important pest insects, bringing a total of 20 chapters. To name a few, mosquito, tsetse fly, codling moth, aphid and corn earworm. Despite being less than 1% of all insect species, pest insects are chosen as subjects of this book because, in Waldbauer’s words, “science has learned much more about these few irksome species than about the overwhelming majority of innocuous insects.”

Each of these pest insects represents a scientific lesson.

Some of the discussions are biology lecture classics. How do black swallowtail caterpillars exemplify Batesian mimicry to avoid predators? What makes a fruit fly a laboratory animal of choice for genetic research? What can a house fly teach us about evolution and natural selection? These chapters not only help beginners as precursor to study entomology, but also serve as refresher to seasoned entomologists.

On the other hand, some chapters implore deeper thoughts on our choice of action in face of pest outbreak. What did Japanese beetles teach us about abuse of DDT? Where does GMO concept stand in a corn farmer’s battle against European corn borers? How does sterile male technique work on screw worm fly? Although the discussions border on what deemed to be controversial, the author makes it a point to approach these topics objectively, while drawing attention to the larger picture – long-term solution and ecosystem balance.

Every chapter is accompanied with hand-drawn illustrations of the pest insect, including a set of full-colour photographs in glossy photo insert in the middle of the book. Waldbauer also cites his references in a list at the back of the book, which is very handy for cross-referencing and also for follow-up reading.


The Entomologist Lounge review:

Insights from Insects incorporates different writing styles to bring its message across to readers. Each chapter begins with narrative introduction of a featured insect, which keeps readers engaged with every page turned. The book prompts its readers to consider how this insect becomes so successful as a pest. The discussion takes on topical-style to focus on relevant key biology that affects insect’s progression into its current pest status. Although the discourse is well-researched and it lends its credibility from established literature and references, readers from non-scientific background may find this book intense. Thus, it may serve readers from this group better by adding more well-placed graphics to illustrate the biology explained in each chapter.


The verdict:

The Entomologist Lounge recommendation: 78946-big-bug78946-big-bug78946-big-bug78946-big-bug

This book makes an excellent addition to an entomologist’s coffee table, or a reading list for an insect enthusiast. Readers from pest management industry (especially public health and agriculture) will find immense benefit from this book.


Here’s some bibliography basics for you:

Title: Insights from Insects: What Bad Bugs Can Teach Us

Author: Gilbert Waldbauer

Year of publication: 2005

Publisher: Prometheus Books, New York, USA

Number of pages: 311 pages


© Jo-Lynn Teh-Weisenburger

Jo-Lynn Teh-Weisenburger is an entomologist based in the Hague, the Netherlands. While her specialisation is on tropical insects that affect public health and agriculture, Jo-Lynn’s passion is to help people understand insects. When she is not scrutinising European insects and books about European insects, Jo-Lynn enjoys exploring recipes, yoga moves and foreign cities. Find her on LinkedIn.


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