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The Earwig's Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-legged Legends Hardcover – October 30, 2009
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Throughout The Earwig's Tail, Berenbaum squashes urban myths about bugs, explaining along the way why you should not wear your dog's flea and tick collar even if you have fleas, as she once did. For 20 years she has taught an entomology course called "Insects and people," and this book provides a wry look at their interactions. It is scientifically accurate, studded with Latin names and journal references, and consistently funny. (Jonathan Beard New Scientist 2009-09-05)
[Berenbaum's] chatty and highly readable new book, The Earwig's Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-legged Legends, unites her scholarship with her interest in the fantasies insects inspire in humans. It's a modern equivalent of the bestiaries that excited medieval readers with accounts of the world's animals, among which the authors frequently included unicorns and mermaids. Berenbaum also includes many an unfounded myth but crisply refutes delusions with scientific truth. (Robert Fulford National Post 2009-09-15)
The Earwig's Tail is a compelling exploration of arthropod-related urban legends. Berenbaum explores the stories' origins--occasionally scientific but more often not--from the etymological issues of how the earwigs got their name through to the plausibility of cockroaches growing inside one's tongue. It is a fascinating collection of short, sharp chapters, each starting with a common myth that Berenbaum investigates through the popular media and more reputable scientific research. She looks for the origin of the legends, and assesses the scientific credibility behind the claims. Written in an entertaining and engaging style, this is a light-hearted and enjoyable critique of some of the public perceptions and misconceptions surrounding our six-legged friends...Do drunk ants really always fall down on their left sides? Is it true that the cockroach would be the only organism to survive a nuclear holocaust? Can a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil really cause a tornado in Texas? If you have ever wondered about any of these issues, or received a warning about an insect and questioned its veracity, Berenbaum has the answers. She leaves the reader with some interesting questions, some entertaining anecdotes, and some possibilities that even an entomologist might not want to consider. A must-read for the entomologist, the entomophobic and anyone who has ever wondered whether mutant insects with six-foot wingspans could take over the Earth. (Michelle Harvey Times Higher Education 2009-10-15)
[It] debunks stories about spiders laying their eggs in people's mouths or the survival of the human race being dependent on the survival of bees...In its way this book is a perfect example of its kind: Berenbaum has an easy, witty style, but writing for fellow scientists keeps her from being annoyingly facetious. (Owen Richardson The Age 2009-11-28)
Myth and misinformation about insects abound, and entomologist May Berenbaum is here to set us straight. In The Earwig's Tail she reveals that a bumblebee's flight doesn't defy physics, cockroaches aren't immune to radiation, and earwigs, despite their name, don't inhabit human ears. Fair enough--but Berenbaum doesn't simply kill untruths dead like a can of Raid. She uses these topics as jumping-off points for enlightening discussions about the insect world, which is so vast and incredible that it requires no exaggeration. (Utne Reader 2010-03-01)
Clever and humorous, this is a book for the layperson that even scientists will enjoy reading. (J. M. Gonzalez Choice 2010-02-01)
About the Author
May R. Berenbaum is Professor and Head, Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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Like any good guide, Berenbaum understands the difficulty in finding factual information about insects, "so, like many other desperate individuals, I turned to the internet." However, it's her dogged collecting of facts "I find it curious that I've only been able to find one single reference in about ten centuries of literature to an earwig actually being found in an ear" which allows her to tell her tales with eye-opening, wow-inducing effect.
To do this, Berenbaum reinterprets a lost genre of medieval literature where modern urban legends and contemporary cultural myths form the basis for each chapter. In telling each tale she easily invokes seemingly disparate connections between insects and Ashton Kutcher's movie roles, Albert Einstein's views on bees (vital to human survival!) and the fate of an axe murderer, all the while herself hacking away at insect half-truths and suppositions.
Simply put, this book is a really fun read for those of any age intrigued by insects. Each chapter can be read through in a sitting, or one could spend an afternoon and enjoy the continuity of the whole book.