Sue Hubbell,
Broadsides from the Other Orders:
A Book of Bugs

(Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

Sue Hubbell presents a human's-eye view into the mysterious and marvelous world of insects in Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs.

Hubbell, a long-time beekeeper, nature observer and amateur entomologist, considers 13 different types of "bugs," one per chapter of this gracefully written book. Here not only will you learn more than you ever need to know about silverfish, bravo bees and katydids, among others, but Hubbell has a way of making you want to find out even more. At the very least, you might find yourself looking more carefully around you.

Insects have been a lifelong passion for Hubbell, and her research takes her traveling in her quest for experts and experiences. For the chapter on butterflies, she travels to Wyoming for a butterfly count, while the chapter on ladybugs takes her to a ladybug harvest in California. Her expert on daddy longlegs is in Michigan while she consults black fly experts in -- where else? -- Maine. She observes bravo bees (so-called "killer" bees) in Guatemala and tracks down a collection of water-striders in Kansas.

Hubbell also writes on gnats and midges, silverfish, katydids, dragonflies, gypsy moths, syrphid flies and camel crickets, and her passion for learning about these bugs is infectious. She describes her experiences with raising camel crickets, the enthusiastic mating habits of the dragonfly -- perhaps rivaled only by the silverfish, of which she writes "A silverfish's life is molt and mate, molt and mate, molt and mate." The story of the gypsy moth's arrival and dispersal in the United States is part horror story and part ecological cautionary tale -- although perhaps not in the way you'd expect. Next time you're in a garden, watch for the bee-like syrphid fly, then leave it alone -- one of its favorite snacks is aphids.

Hubbell has a flowing prose style, elegant and lean, laced with humor. Her love for and fascination with these creatures comes through and enhances her writing. She demystifies the insect world, but at the same time, invests it with a sense of wonder and awe. The daddy longlegs scuttling across the basement floor or the silverfish slithering into the wall will never seem quite the same again after encountering them through Hubbell's eyes.

Admittedly, some of these wee beasties are pests -- few people would have much that was kind to say about black flies, especially since they can be carriers of eyesight-threatening parasites in the tropics. Even so, Hubbell places them into the context of the overall cycle of life, asking whether the benefits of removal are worth the cost.

Broadsides from the Other Orders may not convert you to a passion for entomology, but Hubbell's lucid writing will draw you in from the very beginning.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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