Public Release: 

Bug Expert's Latest Books Feature Simple Language, Vivid Photos

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Retirement isn't about fishing for Gilbert Waldbauer. Such relaxation bugs him. So he has written two more books -- on bugs. Both use everyday language and are aimed at the entomologically curious. Both are expected to make a buzz.

"The Handy Bug Answer Book," released in June by Visible Ink Press, features 19 chapters filled with 800 questions and answers on issues of interest to readers from age 10 and up. The answers draw upon Waldbauer's 40-plus years as an entomologist and professor at the University of Illinois.

The second book, to be released Sept. 30 by the Harvard University Press, is aimed at bird-watchers. "The Birder's Bug Book" takes a 10-chapter look at bird-insect relationships, and reflects a love for bird- and bug-watching that began for Waldbauer with a high school biology course in 1944.

"I try to be a liaison between biological science and the layman," said Waldbauer, whose first in-retirement book, "Insects Through the Seasons" (Harvard University Press), brought critical acclaim in 1996. "I want to be as reader friendly as possible, and avoid relying on the jargon of the field. Sometimes the jargon is necessary and unavoidable, but it also can be interesting because of its Greek or Latin roots."

The "Handy Bug Answer Book" explains that insects have a purpose. "As a group, the insects are necessary to the survival of the human race, because they are essential components of virtually all terrestrial and fresh-water ecosystems, including those in which we live and those that provide us with food, fiber, timber, and most of the other organic necessities of life," he writes in his introduction.

Waldbauer asks, for example: How fast can insects run? Do insects have a heart? How do fleas survive if their host is gone? How do male dance flies keep from being cannibalized by their carnivorous mates? Are millipedes good and caring parents? Each answer is concise and kept to a paragraph.

The book contains vivid photography by Edward S. Ross, a retired entomologist of the California Academy of Sciences, and a foreword by May Berenbaum, head of the U. of I. entomology department.

"The Birder's Bug Book" contains photographs by James Sternburg, a professor emeritus at the U. of I., and drawings by James Nardi, a U. of I. research scientist. It contains a guide to help birders recognize different orders of insects, and it focuses on such topics as "Bugs That Birds Eat," "The Bugs Fight Back," "The Birds Fight Back " and "Bugs That Eat Birds."

European starlings, for example, add foliage with insecticide-like qualities to their nests. Nests without the foliage averaged 500,000 tiny blood-sucking mites; those with it averaged 11,000. In South America, birds must be wary of the Goliath bird-eating spider, which is shown, in action, in full color.

In his final chapter, "Disappearing Diversity," Waldbauer writes that we have entered a "sixth period of mass extinction that may well exceed the others in magnitude, this one caused not by a physical catastrophe but rather by an ecological catastrophe, the actions of an exceptionally destructive member of the worldwide fauna." He is, of course, referring to the human being.

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