Bugs, even 'bad' ones, can be educationally beneficial, new book says

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- We have much to learn from bad bugs, according to Gilbert Waldbauer, whose book "Insights From Insects: What Bad Bugs Can Teach Us" was published March 1 (Prometheus Books).

"We know a lot about pests, because so much money is spent on their research," said Waldbauer, professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Of the 900,000 known species of insects, a mere 2 percent are considered pests. Just as some plants growing where they are not wanted are considered weeds, insects are considered pests only when they adversely affect people, Waldbauer writes.

For example, homeowners typically think of termites as pests, but in forests termites are important for recycling dead wood.

Waldbauer spent 15 years studying the cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia), which he collected by driving along streets in Urbana, Ill., and retrieving cocoons from trees. With its colorful 5- to 6-inch wingspan, the nocturnal cecropia moth is the largest North American moth.

In "Insights From Insects," Waldbauer describes 20 different types of pests. He includes how each pest is destructive to humans, how it sustains itself through feeding, reproduction and avoiding predators, and the various methods that people use to get rid of pests. The book is written for a general audience.

"Many basic biological concepts such as evolution and genetics can be learned through pests," Waldbauer said. For example, he described recent evidence of how a new species of fruit fly is evolving based on how its diet differentiates it from other fruit flies.

Waldbauer uses examples from history, his career and conversations with his entomologist colleagues to illustrate what we can learn from bad bugs.

Many of the pests he describes are found in Illinois, including the corn rootworm. Other regional insects also are mentioned, such as the evergreen bagworm that spans the east coast of the United States an

Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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