Bunches of Beetles
In Millions of Monarchs, Bunches of Beetles, Gilbert Waldauer, an entomologist, explains how insects live and defend themselves. In various chapters titled “Teams of Tent Caterpillars”, “Myriads of Mayflies”, and “Swarms of Cicadas”, Gilbert Waldauer presents various aspects of insect lives. He ponders why people do not study insects the same way they study mammals since much of mammal behavior is also reflected in insect society. For example, leaf beetles and musk oxen both have discovered strength in numbers and defend themselves accordingly.
In the chapter, “People and Insect Plagues”, Gilbert Waldbauer discusses how people interact with large groups of insects. In the Middle Ages, people held trials for insects charged with various crimes. He relates, “Insects to be prosecuted were often represented by defense counsels. The interplay between the prosecutor, who sought to condemn the insects, and the defense counsel, who fought hard to defend them, reflects the ambivalent medieval attitude toward destructive insects: Were they tormenting agents of the devil or were they punishing emissaries from God? The insects sometimes won the day and were not condemned. They were entreated to leave by prayers; the people were exhorted to pay their tithes to the church and to mend their sinful ways to relieve a punishing plague; and sometimes the insects were asked to move from the fields they were injuring to other places that were set aside for them.” The author concludes, that throughout the ages, people have dealt with large numbers of insects in many ways, usually resorting to divine intervention when everything else has failed.
Teams of Tent Caterpillars
In “Teams of Tent Caterpillars”, the author details the society of tent caterpillars, which is considered to be the most complex of all caterpillars. Tent caterpillars live shoulder to shoulder in a gregarious lifestyle. They spin their tent to form a safe, warm place to live in. On cold spring days, the caterpillars join together for warmth. When they venture out for food in single file, the lead caterpillar lays down a smell to form a path for the rest to follow. After foraging for food and before they enter their tent, the caterpillars thrash around to discourage parasites from laying eggs on their bodies.
This satisfying book gives the reader a glimpse and an insight into insects that many readers dislike. These animals and their way of life deserve attention and understanding. Insects have faced the same problems as mammals and have come up with similar solutions. Insects have much to teach people who wish to learn from them.
An except from “Millions of Monarchs, Bunches of Beetles”:
The author presents the complex of relationships between insects and others. He relates, “As odd as it may seem, there is a five-way ecological relationship between telephone companies, eastern tent caterpillars, robins, wild black cherry saplings, and cuckoos. The wires strung between the [telephone] poles were a favorite perch for birds, including many robins. Justly famous as hunters of earthworms, robins also feed voraciously on small fruits. When wild black cherries are ripe, robins and other fruit-eating birds descent upon them and have a feast. They digest the nutritious pulp of the fruit but pass the seeds in their droppings, sometimes as they perch on a telephone wire. Soon there are numerous black cherry samplings, an unusually dense stand, growing under the wires along the roadside. Black cherry leaves are the favorite food of eastern tent caterpillars. Virtually every cherry sapling by the roadside will contain one or more of the large, white, silken tents that colonies of these caterpillars spin in a major fork of the tree. Insectivorous birds, mainly yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos gravitate to this abundance of insect food.”
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