Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Genius of Bugs

The Killer Brain Surgeon and the Zombie

The Genius of Bugs (2016)
Simon Pollard
Te Papa Press
32 pages, paperback, NZ$25

 Review by Trevor Agnew

Book coverThe Genius of Bugs is a tribute to the infinitely amazing behaviour to be found in the insect world. The richest joy of this book, however, is reading Simon Pollard’s prose.

Could you resist a giant praying mantis that looked as if it was made of jellybeans the size of balloons?” asks Pollard. He’s describing the orchid mantis, which captures pollinating insects by impersonating a large pink flower.

Moss piglets are microscopic critters that can survive thirty years without food or water. “To bring a moss piglet back to life, just add water.” (Moss piglets can also survive radiation and exposure to space.)

Then there’s the wasp that’s also a brain surgeon. “By injecting venom very carefully into two parts of the cockroach’s brain, the jewel wasp turns the cockroach into a zombie.” The wasp lays its eggs inside the compliant cockroach’s still-functioning body, thus providing the larva with a ready food supply. “Good for the jewel wasp; not so good for the cockroach.”  It’s probably a bit insensitive to mention the quality of the colour photographs at this point but there is a striking illustration of the jewel wasp leading its cockroach victim off to its fate.

The Genius of Bugs is one of those special books which young readers carry around to read bits aloud from. “Some female fireflies are tricky cannibals.” Weaver ants can lift 100 times their own weight, while hanging upside down. “The toxic spray fired by the bombardier beetle is…as hot as boiling water.” Why does our familiar harvestman have legs that are twenty times the length of its body? Prof Pollard knows. (The index, glossary and identification table all help young readers to share in his knowledge.)

 One of the key roles of our national museum, Te Papa, is to make the results of research available to the general public.  Te Papa Press has carried out this mission superbly with a line of award-winning publications. The bean-counters, naturally, want to shut down the publishing operation for four years. The success of titles like The Genius of Bugs is proof of how short-sighted their policy is.

Pollard and his bugs are a dead cert to win the non-fiction prize in next year’s NZ Children’s Book Awards.  And do pop in to the Bug Lab exhibition at Te Papa in Wellington.   They’ve even produced a companion puzzle and game book for younger enthusiasts, The Genius of Bugs Activity Book, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart.
Trevor Agnew (Dec 2016)
Full details:

The Genius of Bugs (2016)
Simon Pollard
Te Papa Press
32 pages, paperback, NZ$25
ISBN 978-0-9941362-1-3

The Genius of Bugs Activity Book (2016)
Illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
Te Papa Press, 24 pages
ISBN 978 0 9941362 0 6  NZ$15


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