FOR people who have never marveled at flying midges, the songs of crickets, or the colorful flutter of a butterfly, "Broadsides From the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs" is an illuminating introduction to winged and many-legged creatures. Even for the majority of people who feel bugs are a nuisance, Sue Hubbell offers a new perspective.
Originally Hubbell was a beekeeper, but her interest branched to other areas: midges, ladybugs, spiders, crickets, and the like. Her natural curiosity (she wonders in the introduction "What are they up to?") led her on a quest to find out more about the tiny creatures that share nearly every space with us. After all, Hubbell says, "I read in The New York Times not long ago that for every pound of us there are 300 pounds of bugs." These are indeed heavyweights in our world. But, as Hubbell says, "Just hav ing a number doesn't mean we know something."
The "how" and "why" of bugs (as even entomologists informally refer to creepers, jumpers, and fliers) led Hubbell to observe and study in places like the Beartooth Mountains in northern Wyoming for an annual butterfly count and Guatemala to research bravo bees (better known as "killer bees"). Most of her subjects, however, are well-known backyard varieties, like gypsy moths, all leading complex lives.
Far from being pedagogical, this is a layman's bug book. Even the most squeamish reader will find the writing captivating (Hubbell is also the author of "A Country Year" and "A Book of Bees"). Although she does explain the meaning of scientific names, bugs like coleoptera are referred to as people know them best: ladybugs. The book is completely unlike a reference guide in which the habitat, composition, and characteristics of bugs are ticked off without giving the reader an understanding of the creature s. Few experts describe camel crickets as having eyes "which look like tiny shoe buttons ... they have splendid, sweeping, graceful, active antennae...."
The reader will become better acquainted with butterflies, daddy longlegs, katydids, black flies, and midges - and with Hubbell. She's not afraid to poke fun at herself. She describes her encounter during her undergraduate years with a famous entomologist, Theodore Huntington Hubbell: "I am ashamed to say the only question I ever asked him was if he and the young man with the surname of Hubbell whom I was soon to marry might be related."
Hubbell's anecdotes about her experiences while learning about bugs liven the text and give the book a story-like quality. She describes a day spent with a "bugger" harvesting ladybugs in the Sierra Nevadas: "Soon after the two men apply water, the ladybugs, reacting as though it were raining, begin to climb up out of the leaves, turning them orange with their numbers." These insects are "harvested" in the spring and exported around the United States for pest control. Although popular among gardeners, la dybugs are probably not effective - they tend to fly away when released to do their work combatting aphids.
Hubbell shows insects to be varied and intricate creatures with distinct "personalities," not unlike people. Completely unsanctimonious, Hubbell simply shows that we share our world (actually, we share their world) with so many fascinating bugs.