Bitten by the Bug?
Orr, Gillian, The Independent (London, England)
They are among the planet's most varied and vibrant creatures, and are vital to our very survival - so why don't we love creepy- crawlies? Gillian Orr reports
If someone were to announce that they had head lice, those around them would most likely respond with mild disgust, before making a swift exit. Not Richard "Bugman" Jones, however. He would be fascinated, for it is insects - the good, the bad and the ugly - which are his life-long passion.
A childhood interest in creepy-crawlies inherited from his nature- loving botanist father turned into a full-blown love affair after he finished studying biology and was working in medical publishing and realised that his heart was in entomology.
"Through looking at insects," Jones excitedly announces, "you can study the world - the whole natural environment - far better than you can by looking at humans. In fact, there's a lovely idea that, if an alien civilisation landed on Earth and had limited time and resources to study life, all it need do is study beetles and dismiss everything else as a sampling error, because you can understand the whole of evolution, ecology, genetics, physiology - the whole way life on earth works - just by studying insects."
Jones begun writing articles for publications such as BBC Wildlife and various gardening magazines until he found he could support himself purely with his love of bugs. Now that passion can be seen in his stunning new book, Extreme Insects.
Featuring huge, close-up vivacious images of over one hundred different insects, the chances are you would never have seen them in such detail. Jones selected the ones featured - a tough job considering there are millions of insect species - by highlighting the most extreme kinds. There's the shiniest (golden chafer), the loudest (dog-day cicada), the heaviest (giant weta), the shortest lived (mayfly) and so on.
Accompanying the striking pictures are descriptions of the insect, why its behaviour or appearance is so extreme and why it has evolved that way. It beautifully highlights the wonder that is nature and serves as a fascinating look at creatures many people are quick to dismiss as a nuisance.
Jones wanted people to get to know insects better. "People can look at birds and mammals and reptiles and can see that they're big or small," he explains.
"They have an idea what they look like because people are used to seeing them - they know their colours and their shapes - but they're not used to insects, and it's not until you look at them under a hand lens or microscope that you can see and appreciate their completely bizarre and unique structure."
He breaks down the insects into three categories: extreme form, extreme evolution and extreme impact, allowing him to show us the insects' physical features, behaviour and influence. But how did he decide on the different titles?
"I just started with the biggest, fattest, smallest, thinnest and longest and worked my way through some of the obvious ones. Those ones were fairly easy but there are not many of those; you get those out of the way quite quickly.
"Then it was a case of running my mind through some of the extreme structures that insects have, and some of the extreme behaviours. Insects are all manner of peculiar shapes and sizes and have very different functions."
Even his children got involved in brainstorming ideas for categories.
Once he had the various insects he wanted to include, he had to find suitable images. "It was a question of going through quite a few picture libraries, trawling through their catalogues to see what images they had."
Unfortunately he found that he had to abandon some of his choices merely because there were no decent pictures. One included the most pollution-tolerant insect, a fly found in California that lays its eggs in the crude oil that seeps out of the ground then feeds on other insects that have been poisoned on impact with the oil. …