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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Biggest Bugs, Life-Size. Written by George Beccaloni. Firefly Books, 2010. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"Giant African millipedes coil up to defend themselves and emit a strong-smelling, foul-tasting fluid through a pair of tiny pores on the sides of each body segment. They only discharge the chemicals from those segments when they are threatened. The defensive secretions of this millipede are relatively mild.

The longest known individual of this species was a captive specimen owned by Jim Klinger of Texas, US., which had a body length of 15 1/8 inches (387 mm) and a circumference of 2 1/2 in (67 mm). This is the world's longest bug."

He shows the bug in two 'life size' photographs. And he knows about the defence fluid because:

"When I was two I found a rolled up giant African millipede (the world's longest bug) and, mistaking it for a biscuit, I bit it. My mouth and face were covered with the foul smelling fluid this species produces to protect itself. My mother says she couldn't get the smell off me for days, and it made me dislike millipedes for very many years."

Ya think! Just looking at it (in real size) makes me a little queasy!

The description in the book of this 'longest' bug, includes a world map highlighted with the area where the bug is found...Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mozambique and northeast South Africa. There is no mention of Manitoba and chances of a trip to Africa in my future are slim to none. So, I guess I can look carefully and without fear at the clear photographs also captioned on this double-page entry. There is a photo, as well, of the savannah and three paragraphs of clear, informative text to give readers the pertinent details.

Each entry follows the same format and will intrigue and entertain budding entomologists and anyone else who just loves to add such information to their store of knowledge. The names are full of descriptive detail. Consider the Giant Leaf Bush-Cricket, Rhinoceros Cockroach, Saint Helena Giant Earwig, Titan Longhorn Beetle and finally, the Giant Tarantula Hawk Wasp.  Yep, they are all there in full size glory! I checked each map closely and found only one on the North American continent, a few in Central America and so, for now, we can rest easy!

The author is a noted scientist, an author and a researcher who has done his homework. Of this book he says:

"I spent every weekend for almost four months writing Big Bugs Life-size, just managing to make my deadline. The next six months were spent working on the design and layout of the book with the Museum's Publishing Department. The process took a long time because the photographs we needed were very difficult to locate."

Find them they did and they make for a fine piece of nonfiction. In the further information section, the author fully references the details about these record-breaking bugs. An index allows readers to search location, scientific name, type of insect, known name, and noted accomplishment such as heaviest, biggest, longest.

While I can't say that I like bugs more than I did when I started reading, I certainly know much more now that I did then.

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