Thursday, March 14, 2013

Insects of the World, by Walter Linsenmaier

We're seeing increased interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) recently. This book, though out of print, is worth looking for. Walter Linsenmaier did the drawings, the photos, and the text. I compare Insects of the World to The Sibley Guide to Birds, and to David Arora's Mushrooms Demystified. It is even more remarkable, considering that insect species far outnumber the birds or the mushrooms. I am fascinated by the social bees and ants, but here is some of what Linsenmaier writes about grasshopper (locust) swarms:

Floodplains are particularly appropriate as swarming grounds... great hordes of grasshopper nymphs... become concentrated into ever-narrowing areas when water begins to dry up and food gets scarce. The crowding causes the nymphs to disturb one another, and this continual mutual disturbance rises to a level of irritation that leads to the production of the swarming phase. The nymphs develop a spotted, much darker coloration and hence absorb more warmth. Their body temperature is... (9 to 14 degrees F) higher... the whole company... begins to advance on foot on a broad front, as though under the influence of a mass psychosis... Rivers are crossed by swimming; cliffs and chasms scarcely constitute obstacles, although good-sized forests do... the nymphs gradually grow into mature locusts and begin to take to the air.

Although locusts prefer to ride the winds, swarms have been seen in flat calms over the open sea, hundreds of miles from shore; of course, they perished, as do those that happen to fly into the desert.

In South America... hordes of... (one) species overwinter in northwestern Argentina, often heaped into piles a yard high during the cold nights, and fly back southward in the spring...

The weight of a big swarm has been estimated at 15,000 tons, and its daily food consumption as equivalent to that of 1.5 million people. For days at a time... locusts may darken the sky in a given region...
Where they settle almost nothing remains, not even the bark of trees less than two years old.

After a locust invasion, many animals starve... or die from eating the poisonous plants spurned by the locusts. Famine and destitution descend on the people... We are forced to spray poisons, but in doing so we kill the very creatures that eat the locusts. In North Africa, for example, large numbers of locust-eating storks have been killed in this way.


The author presents much more about grasshoppers' music making, courtship songs and signals, cleaning habits, reproduction and development, mimicry and camouflage, enemies, and distribution. And for the many other insects, he presents an amazingly thorough introduction.

I have some field guides that help me identify the buggers, but Insects of the World tells me their natural history, and it is fascinating.




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