Consilience Productions


Sex on Six Legs --
   Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World

by Marlene Zuk
published by Houghton Mifflin
© 2011 by Marlene Zuk

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From NY Times Book Review
In the realm of insects, unlike in the realm of mammals, say, there’s plenty of room at the bottom. Room for millions of species — and quintillions of individuals — to coexist, and room for biologists to make significant discoveries about them by peering closely at their behaviors and their brains. In “Sex on Six Legs,” the biologist Marlene Zuk argues that insects — because they are both unlike us and, in surprising ways, like us — provide excellent fodder for studying the relative value of inheritance versus environment, the evolution of personality, the definition of language and the downside of growing bigger brains.

But first, for those tempted to scuttle away in fear, a vigorous defense of insects qua insects. The antithesis of the dispassionate scientist, Zuk, who teaches at the University of California, Riverside, waxes exuberant over insects not for their extraordinary looks or the billion-dollar ecosystem “services” they provide, like pollination and nutrient recycling, but for the often bizarre things they do to get ahead, “things that would put the most gruesome horror film to shame.” Male honeybee genitals explode after sex; wasps turn cockroaches into zombie incubators; male scorpionflies produce wads of saliva to feed their mates — a nuptial gift that distracts her front end while her hind end mates (the larger the gift, the longer the pairing). On vacation in Hawaii, Zuk prowls not the beaches or rain forests but a lawn visited by crickets parasitized by flies that deposit burrowing larvae on their bodies. After hatching, the fly larvae begin to eat the cricket’s fat. As the maggots grow, they colonize the entire body cavity and consume all its organs until the creature “is a shell that looks like a cricket but is pulsing inside with fly.” --- Elizabeth Royte

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