Friday 5: New Books

I recently read an article on NPR’s website about the Christmas Book Flood in Iceland.  Apparently, the people of Iceland are huge readers and giving a loved one a book has been considered a really classy, wonderful gift ever since World War II.  I ask for and receive a lot of books every year myself, so I think this is a marvelous tradition!  I have my own little one-woman Christmas Book Flood each year.  I received about 20 books altogether this year, including several about insects and other invertebrates.  These are the ones I am most excited about reading (click on the title to view the book on Amazon):

Every living ThingEvery Living Thing by Rob Dunn

I had heard that Rob Dunn was an excellent writer before I met him in person and my limited experience with his writing (mostly work e mails – woo! – and the occasional guest blog post) convinced me that I really needed to read some of his books.  So, I asked for Every Living Thing for Christmas because I like the subject matter: the classification of life on Earth.   There are some truly crazy stories about the quest to classify life and this is something that has fascinated me for a long time, so how could I resist?  I love these kinds of science stories!  And I know Dunn’s storytelling ability is going to make the book a really  great read.  I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, but I already know I’m going to love it.

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet WormsHorseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms by Richard Fortey

I read one of Fortey’s other books a few years ago, one about his time at London’s Natural History Museum, and was entranced.  That book made me long to work at a natural history museum so that I could have some of the same amazing experiences that Fortey had during his tenure in London.  However, I expect I will like this book even more.  Fortey is a paleontologist who specializes in trilobites, but this book deals with living creatures, those that have existed in a highly primitive state for many millions of years, and describes how they reveal the evolutionary processes that have shaped life on Earth.  I am really excited to learn about the most primitive plants and animals, horseshoe crabs, chitons, hellbenders, clubmosses, and the like.  These sorts of ancient creatures are just so darned interesting.  I know I’m going to love this book!

Sex Drugs and Sea SlimeSex, Drugs, and Sea Slime by Ellen Prager

Anyone who had a subscription to National Geographic as a kid will probably confess to having some level of fascination with marine invertebrates.  Who doesn’t love a good cuttlefish or nautilus?  This book is, according to Prager’s introduction, intended to be an entertaining introduction to the lives and survival of a variety of sea creatures (including a lot of invertebrates) and how their place in the environment is important to mankind.  I’ve heard many bizarre stories of marine invertebrates in the past (lobsters are AMAZING!), so I’m excited to read more of them.  The fact that the author is a marine biologist only makes me more excited.  Who knows more than a marine biologist when it comes to the strange, amazing, and hilarious lives of the creatures of the deep?

How Not to be EatenHow Not to Be Eaten by Gilbert Waldbauer

How can anyone resist that title?  In this book, the wonderful entomologist/writer Waldbauer introduces the reader to the world of insect predator-prey relationships and some of the amazing adaptations insects have undergone to both find food and prevent being eaten.  I’m sure the book is full of poisons and traps and death-defying chases – rather like a James Bond book, if it were filled with insectoid characters instead of British people.  Insects are just so weird!  I really enjoyed Waldbauer’s A Walk Around the Pond, so I expect to love this one just as much.  As a scientist who works with large, predatory insects, I am eager to explore the topic in more depth.

The-Sound-of-a-Wild-Snail-EatingThe Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

This is the only book not written by a scientist on my list here, but I feel that it needs to be included with the rest.  This book is less about science than it is about the joys of close observation of the natural world.  The author, Bailey, was bedridden with a mysterious virus when she received a potted violet from a friend.  The friend had also tucked a snail under the leaves  and Bailey soon found herself enthralled by her snail’s behaviors.  The title of the book is based on an early experience with the snail, one in which she fed a violet to the little creature and realized she could hear it chewing the petals.  Bailey soon created a bigger, better habitat for her snail and began to learn everything she could about it, so the book does delve into the science of snails to some extent.  I love the idea of this story, a person finding some meaning in an otherwise terrible experience through something as small and seemingly insignificant as a snail.  It makes me happy when people become attached to the spineless creatures of the world, so I think this is going to be a thoroughly enjoyable book to read.

But before I read any of these books, I have to finish my current book and one completely frivolous book: Redshirts by John Sclazi.  I know I’m going to love it, but considering my husband told me, immediately upon opening the book mind you, that I had to read it immediately and then I had to let him read it as soon as I was done, I have a feeling he really bought it for himself.  Ever get that feeling when you open gifts?  :)

Did anyone else get any good insect or science books for Christmas?  I’d love to hear about your personal Christmas Book Floods in the comments below!  You all have great book recommendations, so I’m interested to hear about what you’re looking forward to reading.

(In the interest of full disclosure, none of the images in this post are my own.)


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: Bugs Books the Dog Ate

This is my dog Monkey:



Even though a lot of people think he’s a big, scary pit bull (he’s not), Monkey’s a big lump of a 65 pound lap dog wannabe that absolutely adores being around people.  Monkey spends the majority of his non-sleeping life trying to get one of two things: food or a good chest rub/head scratch from whoever is closest to him.  I love him to pieces and I did from the first moment I saw him at the shelter.  It was truly love at first sight, so I was ready and willing to nurse my new puppy through a long series of illnesses (parvo first, then several others) that started two weeks after I got him.

While he was sick, I never really got to see his true personality.  Boy did we see that personality as soon as he came through the last illness though!  Once he was well, what I’d thought was a nice, sedate dog revealed himself to be an incredibly energetic puppy.  That would have been okay, except he also had serious separation anxiety and hated our leaving the house without him.  So, for nearly a year, we would come home to scenes such as this:

naughty dogs

Naughty dogs.  This took FOREVER to clean up!

He chewed everything!  He destroyed a coffee table, dozens of pillows, several dog beds, a couple of couch cushions, a dozen pairs of shoes, and several items of clothing.  Worst of all, he realized early on that the best way to punish me for leaving him was to chew up my beloved books.  For months I would come home to at least one book with nibbled corners sitting in the middle of the living room floor.  My insect books were, unfortunately, particularly hard hit.  Let’s look at a few examples, shall we?

Comparative Biomechanics

Comparative Biomechanics

Comparative Biomechanics

I’m the kind of person who randomly decides that I need to learn something, like biomechanics, and buys a textbook.  I hadn’t even gotten to start reading this one before it fell victim to Monkey and appeared on the living room floor.  The damage is comparatively tolerable on this book at least.  The spine is mostly intact and none of the pages were harmed at all.  That was the best you could hope for at the time.  This book was also brand new when Monkey entered the chewing phase:

Physiological Systems in Insects

Physiological Systems in Insects

Physiological Systems in Insects

This was recommended to me on Amazon at some point.  It sounded good and was actually relevant to what I do, so I bought it.  Then Monkey chewed the spine off.  The front cover is still physically attached to the book, but the back cover is not.  I intend to repair this one eventually, but I never seem to get around to buying the book repair tape I need to do the job properly.  Other books did not get the proper treatment, such as…

Dragonflies of the World

Dragonflies of the World

Dragonflies of the World

Duct tape really doesn’t make a good book repair material, as much as I love the stuff.  The sad thing about this book: it was the SECOND copy of it that Monkey ate!  He absolutely destroyed the first one, so I bought a used copy on Amazon to replace it.  I carefully sprayed it with bitter apple spray and set it lovingly on the shelf.  Two days later it was out on the living room floor with the covers laying 10 feet away.  Buying a third copy was going to be too expensive because it’s out of print, so I just slapped some duct tape on and hoped it would work.  It’s a little sticky, but it’s otherwise holding up alright still.

Living Jewels

Living Jewels

Living Jewels

Second copy of this book too!  Darned dog…

Dragonflies of North America

Dragonflies of North America

Dragonflies of North America

In this last example, you’ll notice that there is no cover at all on this book.   This is Dragonflies of North America and at the time that Monkey ate both the front and back covers and the spine of this book, the cheapest used copy I could find was close to $400.  Hence, I tidied it up and put just the text block back on my shelf.  Happily, a new edition of this book is coming out soon, so I can replace my sad little topless book with something new and shiny.  Can’t wait for that day!

About a year after Monkey started his chewing phase, he suddenly stopped eating books.  We would come home to chewed books once a month, then once every 3 months.  It was like a switch was flipped and book chewing was simply turned off.  I like to think he realized that chewing up books wasn’t doing any good, that we were still going to leave him regardless of what he chewed.  Maybe he finally realized that even if we left him, we would always come back.  Whatever the reason, I’m so glad those days are behind us!  Now, he’s okay with our leaving.  He hasn’t chewed a book in ages.  And if any of you were wondering why I put up with his chewing up my stuff every time I left the house for a year, this is why: nothing beats coming home to a happy, healthy dog who tackles you the moment you get home – every time – to let you know how much he missed you.  It was worth trading a few books for the sappy little love of a dog he’s become.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Buying Books About Insects

One of my commenters mentioned a book about insects that I have loved for as long as I’ve been seriously interested in insects, The Practical Entomologist by Rick Imes.  It came out about a year before I decided I wanted to be an entomologist and I was thrilled to find it at my favorite used bookstore in Colorado Springs, CO.  The bookstore has changed ownership and names several times and is a pale shadow of what it used to be, but I still have, and love, the book.  In fact, I just yesterday unpacked it and lovingly placed it on my bookcase in my home office after flipping through it for the thousandth time.  It took a place of honor among the several hundred insect books that fill up the entire bookcase and it is one I am sure I will always enjoy.

Thinking about that book again and seeing my well-loved copy of it made me think of how I got it.  My dad discovered the bookstore where I bought it.  He went nearly every weekend, looking for books about the Western US and geology and the bookstore was big enough and eclectic enough to have a lot of books that he wanted, unusual things you couldn’t find anywhere else.  I can’t even remember when I started going with him to the bookstore, but it was unusual for me to go a month without visiting it with my dad.  At first I was into buying collections of comics, The Far Side mostly.  But, as I started liking insects and then decided I wanted to become an entomologist, I gradually made my way over to the animal section of the store and found their phenomenal insect book collection.

Some of my all-time favorite insect books came from that shop.  The Practical Entomologist was an important book for my development as an entomologist because it told me, for the first time, how to make a proper insect collection and how to do things like photograph insects or create little habitats for them.  I absolutely loved that book when I got it.  I bought my first old entomology textbook there too, Entomology for Beginners: For the Use of Young Folks, Fruit-Growers, Farmers, and Gardeners by A. S. Packard.  I credit this book for inspiring my love of both printmaking and old science books.  That book set me back a measly $2.75 and I still consider it one of my best insect book finds ever.  It costs a lot more than that anywhere else now, which is part of why I loved that bookstore so much.

I bought my first field guides at that shop too.  My favorite at the time was a book called American Nature Guides: Insects by George C. McGavin.  This is far from my favorite field guide now, but the illustrations are marvelous and I found it incredibly helpful as I first learned my insect families.  I bought a lot of general insect books too, like the Time Life insect book and one about insect flight.  I had that butterfly alphabet poster that features photos by Kjell Sandved on my bedroom wall (and then my dorm wall and my first apartment’s wall) and was thrilled to find an entire book of his butterfly photography in the insect section at the bookshop.  Getting to see butterfly scales that close was a magical thing to me at the time.  That bookshop was marvelous, absolutely marvelous, and had a spectacular insect book collection.  No other bookstore has ever come close to matching that shop in my eyes.

I got $10 a week in allowance as a teenager and that had to pay for everything – movies with friends, meals out with friends, and everything other than clothes that I wanted to buy.  Choosing which books to  buy each week was an agonizing decision and I would frequently ask my dad for an advance of 2-3 weeks on my allowance so I could buy every title I wanted.  Every now and again my dad would “forget” that I owed him a week’s worth of allowance and would give it to me anyway.  Honestly, I think he enjoyed that fact that I shared his passion for eclectic books and was willing to forgo the normal teenager stuff to spend all my money on bug books.

And I still spend a good part of my spending money on insect books!  The books I buy now tend to be new rather than used and I usually buy them online, but my insect book collection keeps growing.  It currently takes up nearly an entire bookcase, and not a small bookcase either.  No, this bookcase is a foot taller I am and 5 feet across, a big, heavy oak bookcase that can stand up to the incredibly heavy science books I am most likely to buy these days.  I’ve got two whole shelves of nothing but dragonfly books, but I still have a dozen more on my wishlist too.  I love insect books, and I don’t think that is ever going to change.  I can think of much worse things to spend my money on.

Looking at my books brings back so many good memories – good times spent with my dad, fun classes that I enjoyed, places I’ve gone, and people I’ve met.  They’re a visual representation of my passion for entomology, of a life lived doing something I truly love.  Those books make me happy and remind me that I’m still on the right path.  I love my insect books.  Oh, that reminds me!  I still wanted that book on…  :)


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: My Field Guide Wish List

Moving across the country has been a big adventure and one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed so far.  However, there are some downsides.  The biggest one for me is that my western field guides are rather worthless in my new home.  The insects on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains are quite different compared to the insects from the other side.  That’s good.  It’s really fun seeing all the new things and I am enjoying learning about the local species.  However, it would be great to have field guides appropriate for this part of the country as I explore the local terrestrial insects, just to make field identifications of unfamiliar species a little easier.  So, I’ve created a wishlist of insect field guides that I want to buy over the next few months.   They include:

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast by Giff Beaton

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East was the one and only eastern field guide I purchased before I moved to North Carolina and I love it as much as I loved the corresponding book for the west.  However, I am a firm believer that I can never have too many dragonfly books!  We have this book at work and I really like it because it focuses entirely on the species of the southeast and leaves out the things you only find in Canada and New England.  I have several copies available for my use at work, but I think I need a copy for home too.  It will look awfully good with all the other dragonfly books on my shelf, and I’ve already found it useful.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David Wagner

I’ve wanted this book since it was first released, but there never seemed to be a point in actually buying it.  There will always be some species that cross the east-west boundary, but why would I need a book on eastern caterpillars in the west?  Well, now I live in the east and I suddenly have a use for this book.  Yay!  I can’t wait to get it!  I know next to nothing about caterpillar identification, but I’m working at a field station/outdoor education center.  People like to visit the garden and ask questions about the butterflies and I find myself needing to learn my caterpillars for the first time ever.  I think this book would be a great way to get started, so it’s at the very top of my wishlist.

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie

This book is tailored to the northeast rather than the southeast, but the moth people I’ve interacted with in North Carolina so far tell me that it’s still one of the best guides for local species.  North Carolina is an interesting place because it’s got an incredibly rich diversity of geologies and habitat types, so we get a nice mixture of northern and southern species here.  The northern moth book is supposed to be great for many of the moths here.  It just doesn’t cover the species that stretch up into North Carolina from the south.  Maybe someone will eventually write a companion book for the southeast?

Field Guide to Freshwater Invertebrates of North America by James Thorp and Christopher Rogers

This book isn’t geared toward the eastern US specifically, but it’s one I haven’t had a chance to purchase yet and am really excited about getting.  I’ve flipped through it a few times and it’s a great book.  It’s simple enough that I think it is an excellent guide for people just starting to learn about freshwater insects, crustaceans, worms, and other invertebrates.  However, it’s got enough detail that I feel like it has some meat to it too.  Most other aquatic invertebrate fields guides out there are either quite old and outdated or not detailed enough for my taste, so this book is a welcome future addition to my library.

National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur Evans and Craig Tufts

An all-purpose insect field guide can come in really handy now and again.  I have a few general guides already, but I’m always on the lookout for more.  This is the one I want the most.  I really like the way Art Evans writes and he is incredibly knowledgeable about insects, so I trust that the information in this book is good.  The people I know who have it all seem to like it too, which I consider a good sign.  This book combines lovely photos and great information, so what’s not to love?  And just look at the mantid on the cover!  I fully intend to judge this book by its cover.  :)

That’s about half of my wishlist so far.  Does anyone want to recommend any other insect books with a southeastern US focus?  A lot of you probably know more about the great field guides in this part of the country than I do, so I welcome any suggestions!  Leave your recommendations in the comments below.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: Branching Out in Popular Science Literature

This is an insect blog.  Nearly every post I’ve ever done has related to insects somehow.  I do that on purpose because I like insects.  I like them a lot.  Some might even say I like them too much.  But ultimately, entomologists are biologists and biologists are scientists and most of us have interests in fields of science outside of entomology.  I have quite a few in fact, something that those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably noticed.  For today’s Friday 5, I’m going to do something a little different and share my five favorite science books that have little or nothing to do with insects.  I think these books are excellent examples of great science writing and I enthusiastically recommend any of these to people who want to read a good scientific story.  In no particular order, they are…

dark banquet coverDark Banquet by Bill Schutt

As my Tweeps have probably noticed, I have a thing for bats.  I can’t even explain why I like them so much – I just do.  Honestly, I bought this book because of the bat on the cover (I absolutely judge books by their covers and this policy has served me well!) and the fact that the author is a bona fide bat biologist.  But, oh!  It’s so much more than a book about bats!  You’ll learn all about mosquitoes and horse flies and leeches and how blood feeding animals are able to prevent being detected as they feed and how they keep blood flowing when they find a tasty animal to feed on.  This is also the only book on today’s list that’s written by an actual scientist rather than a science writer.  I read a lot of books written by scientists, but few reach the level of accessibility and entertainment that this one does.  And did I mention that there are bats?  :)

tapir's morning bath coverThe Tapir’s Morning Bath by Elizabeth Royte

This book is partly the story of a science writer who decided that going to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to write a book was a good idea, and the result is absolutely marvelous. Royte’s approach was rather unique.  She wanted to write about science and scientists, so she went to Panama’s Barro Colorado Island and offered her services as a free field hand.  Living and eating with scientists, going to their daily meetings, and working with them in the field gave her a rather unique insight into how biological research is actually done. This book describes the effort and long hours biologists put into their research, the highs and lows of biological field work, and the moments of pure elation that biologists experience, and it does so in a beautifully written, engrossing way.  The book celebrates biology in all its messy, frustrating, and thrilling glory.  Read it!

Galileo's daughter coverGalileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel

I can’t even remember why I bought this book, but I’m so happy I did!  Dava Sobel is a phenomenal science writer and it was this book that introduced me to her work.  The story tells the well-worn tale of Galileo and his groundbreaking astronomical discoveries for the thousandth time, but Sobel gives the story a unique voice: Galileo’s elder daughter, a Catholic nun.  Galileo and his daughter were very close and had a sort of symbiotic relationship throughout Galileo’s life, the father supporting his child through patronage of her convent and bringing her news of the outside world while she supported and encouraged her father’s work in astronomy.  If I didn’t know it was a true story, based on a large collection of letters found after Galileo’s death, I would have thought this was historical fiction.  And while you’re happily reading through a truly good yarn, you learn about how Galileo came up with his ideas, the work he did in astronomy, and his eventual incarceration and defamation at the hands of the Catholic church.  A fabulous tale about an extraordinary scientist who changed the world.

species seekers coverThe Species Seekers by Richard Conniff

I am fascinated by the Victorian age and the huge influence the natural historians of that time had on our understanding of modern biology.  This book is about the early species seekers, the scientists and ordinary people who traveled the world, sometimes at great risk of death or dismemberment, to catalog, collect, and describe species in the far reaches of the globe.  It’s an engaging tale, one full of odd characters, bitter rivalries, triumphs, and disappointments (as most books about biologists should!) that sucks you in and makes you want to keep turning the page.  It’s also fascinating to read about how the discovery of the gorilla shook our understanding of what it meant to be human and how Darwin and Wallace’s evolutionary ideas changed the world.  This is a really well written book about an extraordinary time in science history, and one I think everyone should read.

secret life of lobsters coverThe Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

I’ve actually mentioned this book before, but I love it so much that I’m going to talk about it again.  This, to me, is one of the best examples of popular science writing on the market.  It seamlessly blends stories about lobster fishermen and the scientists who study lobster biology with stories about the lobsters themselves.  Lobsters are surprisingly interesting animals, and lobster fisherman/biologists are too.  This is a great read!  I know I’m going to sound very nerdy for saying so, but I had a hard time putting this one down.  It’s that good!

I still have many, many more science books I’d like to read in my lifetime, so I’m sure my favorites will change over time, but any of the books above make for excellent reading for anyone with an interest in biology or science in general.  Would anyone else like to recommend a popular science book?  There are so many great books out there!  I’d love to get a few more recommendations, so leave comments below!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright ©

Wading For Bugs

Wading for Bugs coverLast week I was reading through the quarterly newsletter for the Society for Freshwater Science when I came across a book review for a book I hadn’t even heard of.  It was called Wading For Bugs and the review described the book as a series of stories told by aquatic biologists about their interactions with aquatic insects.  I of course had to have this book immediately (the book had been in print for three whole months by the time I discovered it after all!), so I clicked over to Amazon.  $13.16 and two days later I held a copy of the book in my hands.  And oh, it is marvelous!

The book has two main goals as I see it.  First, it introduces the reader to the benefits of aquatic insects and succinctly explains why everyone should appreciate them.  My only (minor) complaint is that the book focuses almost entirely on their usefulness as biological indicators of water quality to the near complete exclusion of other benefits they provide, but it’s understandable.  Aquatic insects do play a very important role in monitoring water quality around the world and that importance is rarely advertised to the public.  The book also provides basic information about aquatic insects.  Each section begins with information about an order (their structures, life histories, and role as bioindicators) to teach the reader a little about each group.  There’s a fair amount of knowledge contained in this 160 page book!

The second goal of the book is to help readers see aquatic insects through the eyes of the scientists who study them.  After a brief introduction to a group at the start of a chapter, you read through a series of stories (mostly non-fiction) that allow you to follow along with an aquatic entomologist as he/she works.  These stories are what attracted me to the book.  A lot of big name aquatic entomologists talk about their work and fascinations with aquatic insects while simultaneously teaching the reader a bit about a specific insect.

The stories are, I think, beautiful.  Many are love stories from scientists to the organisms that both enthrall them and provide their bread and butter, but there is a lot of variation in story styles and topics.  Ever been curious about how scientists discovered that the giant water bug Abedus herberti leaves streams before flash floods?  You’ll find out in the story by Dave Lytle.  Or maybe you’ve wondered if aquatic insects are useful in murder cases.  John Wallace can answer that.  The book contains stories about mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, true flies, dragonflies/damselflies, bugs, and beetles written by researchers studying a huge variety of topics.  In essence, it provides an overview of what aquatic entomologists actually do while giving you a unique insight into their psyches.

If you have an interest in aquatic entomology, this is a great little book to add to your collection.  The approach is rather unique and the book presents a viewpoint you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.  It’s a short book, but it’s full of inspiration and information.  I highly recommend it!

Wet Beaver Creek

Wet Beaver Creek

In the spirit of the book, I would like to share a very brief story about an encounter with an aquatic insect I’ve had.  About 5 years ago, I helped out a Park Service friend who was part of a team developing an aquatic monitoring plan for Arizona’s national monuments.  They wanted an outside opinion about the effectiveness of their plan and invited me to evaluate it.  We met up at the tragically named Wet Beaver Creek near Montezuma’s Well in central Arizona and got to work, spending the rest of that day and the following day sampling the insects in the stream.  It was great!  And the monitoring plan was sound too.  Fun, fun, fun!

Most of the team went back to Tucson at the end of the second day, but my friend and I stayed another night.  Lacking anything better to do, we wandered up to the Well in the dark, leaned against the railing overlooking the big water-filled crater, and talked about the monitoring plan and aquatic insects for about an hour.  I was really enjoying the whole experience!  Two days of collecting bugs in a beautiful river was making me very content with the world.

Right about as that feeling started to sink in, however, I felt something bite my calf just below my shorts.  Just a tiny pinch, so I swatted my hand at it and didn’t think more about it until I felt another one.  And another.  Then another.  The moon was very bright, so I eventually looked down to see what was nipping at my legs.  They were no see ums (aka, biting midges), tiny flies in the family Ceratopogonidae that are aquatic as larvae and terrestrial as adults!  Their common name stems from the fact that they’re so small they’re hard to see, but they are bloodsuckers.  I hadn’t ever encountered no see ums, so I thought, “What damage can such tiny flies possibly cause?” I started jiggling my legs a bit to discourage their landing on me and winced slightly whenever one bit me, but didn’t worry about it that much.  I fell asleep that night thinking, “That wasn’t so bad…”

Fast forward to the next morning.  Remember that photo I shared in my post about the downsides of entomology, this one showing all the bites on my legs?:

bug bites

No see um bites!

That was what I woke up with!  SO many bites, SO itchy, all over my legs and arms.  The 3.5 hour drive home was excruciating because I couldn’t stop scratching.  I essentially doused myself in hydrocortisone when I got home.  Then I counted my bites.  I had over 300!  THREE HUNDRED!  No wonder I was clawing my skin off.  No wonder I was miserable!  300 little bloodsucking flies had feasted on my legs!

That was my only bad encounter with no see ums though.  Now I wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, even when it’s hot.  I would rather get my pant legs wet than live through that misery again.  That night I was almost taken down by a 1mm long fly!  Never again.  Never again…

So that’s one quick little story, but I’d love to hear your stories too!  Does anyone want to share an encounter you’ve had with an aquatic insect?  If so, leave a comment below!  Let’s make our own little Wading for Bugs!  But read the book too!  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll understand aquatic entomologists like me a little better.


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Friday 5: Buggy Fiction

I feel like I haven’t written about insect books recently, so it’s time for another Friday 5 insect book list!  This week, I bring you fictional books that feature insects and other arthropods, because they’re just so darned fun!  I read a really huge range of things, especially when it comes to fiction, so I’ve got  little of everything on this week’s list:

Contemporary Fiction: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

I absolutely love Barbara Kingsolver’s books!  Her prose is astoundingly well crafted and the stories hold my interest well.  Prodigal Summer is my favorite of her books.  The story revolves around the lives of three women in Appalachia, a wildlife biologist who studies a group of coyotes that have just returned to the area after a long absence, an organic farmer at war with her farmer neighbor who thinks her farming practices are ruining his livelihood, and a young, big city entomologist who unexpectedly becomes the head of a farm when her farmer husband dies.  (Guess which story I like the best!)  The relationships these women form are interesting and beautiful and the book contains some of the most elegant writing about nature I’ve ever read.  And did I mention that there’s an entomologist in the book?  I just love it!  I recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in nature.  It’s that good!

Classic Fiction: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

You didn’t think you’d get through this list without hearing about this one, did you?  THE classic entomological tale of a man who wakes up one morning to discover he’s been transformed into a giant insect, only to become an object of derision to everyone around him.  There are, of course, all sorts of other things you can say about the book, about how becoming an insect is symbolic of the alienation that young men often feel, etc, etc.  But really, what’s cooler than a whole book about a giant man-bug?  Nothing, that’s what!  :)

Historical Fiction: Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson

I have to admit: I only read this book because I was browsing a bargain book rack at Barnes and Noble and saw the beetle on the cover.  It sounded pretty good and it cost $4, so I went for it!  Set in Victorian times, at the dawning of the theory of evolution and in time when naturalists were superstars, Drayson’s story follows an entomologist/naturalist who is marooned on an island in the South Pacific.  The man recounts his childhood with Charles Darwin, describing their shared love of beetles, how they developed the descriptions of natural selection that made Charles Darwin famous together, and how his search for an elusive gold beetle has left him to die on a volcanic island that’s about to explosively erupt.  The book is a little bizarre at times, but it’s also a lot of fun to read.  And, as the title suggests, there just might be a murder…

Sci-fi: Bug Park by James P. Hogan

I adore sci-fi movies, but I don’t read a lot of sci-fi books.  However, my husband grew up reading pulp sci-fi novels and has a large collection of classics.  This is one of them.  In Bug Park, a scientist develops a direct connection between the brain and tiny insect-sized robots (mecs), allowing people to experience a bug’s eye view of the world.  However, his scheming wife wants to steal the technology and sell it to a rival company.  Meanwhile, the scientist’s son and his girlfriend become expert mec users, creating Bug Park so they can explore and battle the insect world.  When they uncover the plot to sell the technology, they decided to find the evidence to take the scheming wife/stepmother down – but things don’t go exactly according to plan (of course).  Mec battles, giant insects, and viewing the world through a bug’s perspective are all part of the fun in Bug Park!

Fantasy: Ananzi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and he writes gloriously dark, beautifully written short stories, novels, and graphic novels.  I am working my way through all of his books and I’ve read Good Omens, which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett, at least 20 times.  Good Omens will always be my favorite Gaiman book, but Ananzi Boys is my favorite of the books he’s written on his own.  In it, Fat Charlie Nancy decides to invite his estranged father to his wedding only to discover that his father has recently died.  When he returns home for the funeral, he learns that his father wasn’t just any man, but the African trickster god Ananzi.  He also learns he has a brother, Spider, that he never knew about.  Spider becomes a part of his life and all hell breaks loose!  All of Neil Gaiman’s books are strange and at times outright confusing, but this story is a really good one – and it would be good even if it didn’t feature so much entomological imagery.

Anyone else have bug fiction books they want to recommend?  I’m always on the lookout for new ones, so I welcome any suggestions!


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