Gary Brown: Creepy-crawly critters subject of book
According to Amy Stewart’s new book, “Wicked Bugs,” members of the crew on a voyage of Christopher Columbus were so desperate to get rid of the chigoe flea — it burrows under nails and lays its eggs — that they cut off their toes.
Ouch. Obviously, they were pretty bugged.
It also seems, says the book’s publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, N.C., that a woman named Carole Hargis tried to murder her husband by “slipping a tarantula’s venom sac into a blackberry pie.”
Go ahead guys, enjoy tonight’s dessert.
And, publicity material for the book estimates, “one in four people on the planet is infested with roundworms, creatures larger than a pencil that live in the small intestine.”
This probably is an unnecessary warning at this point, but this column is going to make you squirm and itch.
Writing about “The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diablical Insects,” as the subtitle notes, was not an easy task for the author, who describes herself as a bug-hugger of sorts.
“Those of us who are staunchly on the side of bugs, sweeping them gently out of the house with a word of kindness and refusing to allow chemical sprays into our gardens for fear of disturbing their dinner, might be disinclined to explore their criminal history,” she explains, before adding that she nevertheless “devoted myself exclusively to the dark side of the relationship between nature and humans.”
Indeed, if harsh words were flyswatters, Stewart has taken a slap at fleas, ticks, flies, bees, ants, termites, spiders, mites, cockroaches, chiggers, stink bugs, mosquitoes, locusts and just about any other filthy flying or creepy crawling pest you can think of.
Even the names of Stewart’s subjects can give a guy the willies. Black widow. Stinging caterpillar. Death-watch beetle. Scabies mite. African bat bug.
“Bat bugs will wander the house and feed on humans,” Stewart writes at one point.
Try to get to sleep tonight after reading that in a book before you turn out the light on your nightstand. And we haven’t even gotten into what Stewart has to say about bookworms or bedbugs yet.
“Wicked Bugs” is a little bit disturbing but a lot captivating.
How can you not read a chapter on “Stink Bugs,” including the notation that, “When Christmas came, the bugs climbed up the family’s tree and took their place among the ornaments,” and not still be very much interested in such an infestation when the holidays arrive?
Bugs are all around us, Stewart notes.
“To date, over one million species of insects have been described worldwide,” writes Stewart. “It is estimated that there are 10 quintillion insects alive on the planet right now, which means that for each one of us, there are 200 million of them.”
We can’t avoid all of them, although reading about them might make us alter the way we live our lives in an attempt to keep our distance. I know I’m going home tonight to take a shower or two.
“Wicked Bugs” talks about insects that even have changed history. Stewart wonders if termites didn’t contribute to the tragedy in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
“The seams of the floodwalls that were supposed to protect the city were made of sugar-cane waste, a treat that Formosan termites cannot resist.”
But, her research hasn’t much changed its author, who also wrote “Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.”
“After all I’ve learned,” she writes, “I still can’t bring myself to squash a bug.”