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Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson
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Did you know that there are 380,000 known species of beetle? That there’s a type of Indian stick insect that has sex by sticking to its mate “non-stop for 79 days”? Or that possibly the world’s noisiest insect is a 2mm-long species of water boatman that “uses its penis as a violin bow”? All these facts (and a great many more), said Tom Chivers in The Times, are to be found in this “fun little book” by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, a Norwegian entomologist who has dedicated her life to studying these remarkable but often “unconsidered” creatures. Written with “unstoppable Scandinavian positivity”, Extraordinary Insects is a “joy”.

Insects arrived long before us (about 479 million years ago) and will carry on “wriggling and buzzing” after we exit the planet, said Charles Foster in the London Evening Standard. Such durability is down to their “astonishing fecundity”: if two fruit flies mated, producing equal numbers of males and females, which in turn did the same, at the end of a single year the “25th generation, if packed tightly together, would form a sphere whose diameter would be greater than the distance between the Earth and the Sun”. This produces a “lot of new genetic material” for natural selection to work on – which is why the DNA of mosquitoes on the London Underground varies significantly between lines. And yet humans mostly ignore the “wondrous complexity” of these creatures, killing them “casually and recklessly”. As a result, insect biomass is in decline: in Germany, it has decreased 75% in 30 years. But as Sverdrup-Thygeson makes clear, this has more worrying long-term implications for humans than it does for insects. “They’ll survive. But if we reduce their numbers much more, we’ll accelerate our own demise.”