CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 11. . . .November 12, 2010
Biggest Bugs (life-size!)
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 2010.
84 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Insects-Size-Juvenile literature-Pictorial works.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Gillian Richardson.
Chan's megastick is the longest of all the world's insects and the extraordinary thing is that it was only given its scientific name in 2008. The first specimen to be found, a male, was collected 25 years before this, but it was only after the much longer female of the species was collected in 1989 that Dr. Phil Bragg, an expert on the stick insects of Borneo, realized that the species was new and decided to name it.
Currently only two females and four males of Chan's megastick are known. They were all collected in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo between 1983 and 1994. They were found in rainforest in four separate localities ranging in altitude from about sea level to 5,249 ft (1,600 m). It is therefore likely that this species is fairly widespread in Sabah. The likely reason it eluded capture for so long is that it probably lives in the crowns of huge rainforest trees.
The bug mentioned in the above excerpt of this book is so big (14 in, 357 mm) it requires a triple-page foldout to show it, as the book promises, life-size. But all of the 35 species included in this fascinating volume are equally impressive. Some are biggest in body length, others in wingspan, and yet others achieved this status by weight. The Introduction explains the author's rationale for choices of subjects, and how the size is measured with variations (soft-bodied insects shrink after death, so weights might be estimates) taken into account. The author's passion for his work is clearly evident. Fans of superlatives will discover that the South American Actaeon beetle is the world's heaviest bug at 8 oz (228 g). Another amazing note is that, even though bugs are smaller than they once were, the largest cockroaches and spiders "are not fossil species as you might expect, but species which are still alive today." Many of the descriptive names alone are enough to attract the curious: giant, Goliath, Emperor, Colossus, Hercules.
For each bug, a chart gives maximum size, scientific name and a clear map showing worldwide distribution. Well-labelled life-size photos offer excellent detail, often showing the bug in habitat, different parts of the life cycle or action shots of hunting or food gathering. Text (accessible style with technical terms adequately explained) describes appearance, life cycle, food, who discovered it, unusual features and where the largest specimen is exhibited. Some of the specifics are quite intriguing: the nymph of the Gargantuan Cockroach, if attacked, can emit a slime that "turns into rubbery glue, which can gum up and totally immobilize small predators." Can you imagine how useful that skill might be in a human context, or at least to science fiction aficionados?
For serious bug fans, additional details of size and the people behind the collecting are offered in pages of Further Information. References and detailed Index complete the book. The author's credentials—curator of insects at the Natural History Museum in London—speak to the accuracy of facts provided about these spectacular creatures.
The content of Biggest Bugs will amaze and inform curious young readers who may never get to see such exceptional species in the wild. It may encourage a new sense of respect for this diverse group of living things that many of us consider to be merely 'creepy crawlers'.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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