This “excellent guide to the history of our planet” offers a bugs-eye view of evolution, biodiversity, and todays ecological crises (The Guardian, UK).
According to entomologist Scott Richard Shaw, dinosaurs never ruled the earth—and neither do humans. The true potentates of our planet are, and always have been, insects. Starting in the shallow oceans of ancient Earth and ending in the far reaches of outer space—where insect-like aliens may also reign—Planet of the Bugs spins a sweeping account of insects’ evolution from humble arthropod ancestors into the bugs we know today.
Leaving no stone unturned, Shaw explores how evolutionary innovations such as small body size, wings, metamorphosis, and parasitic behavior have enabled insects to disperse widely, occupy increasingly narrow niches, and survive global catastrophes in their rise to dominance. Through bizarre and buggy tales—from caddisflies that construct portable houses to parasitic wasp larvae that develop in the blood of host insects—he demonstrates how changes in our planet’s geology, flora, and fauna contributed to insects’ success, and also how, in return, insects came to shape terrestrial ecosystems. And in his visits to hyperdiverse rain forests to highlight the current insect extinction crisis, Shaw reaffirms how crucial these tiny beings are to planetary health and human survival.
Shaw, professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, takes an arthropodist stand against "human-centric bias that seeks to place our vertebrate ancestors in some kind of elevated position," as he frames evolutionary history from the vantage point of insect development. The million distinct catalogued species that Shaw says "rule the planet" only constitute a subset of those that are documented in the fossil record or that have been discovered in the microniches of environments such as the tropical rainforest. Shaw looks at groups of species in terms of the structural features that developed to exploit emerging habitats and examines them in light of their parallel development with plant or animal species for which they might be prey, parasites, or pollinators. His assertion that the incredible success of insect forms makes them the most likely to reoccur in terrestrial-type environments leads him to playfully predict that the life we are most likely to find on other planets will be "buggy." Shaw's detailed investigation places the broad classifications of ancient and modern insects in the context of their development, and, by showing specifics of coevolution, he makes a strong case for valuing the interconnectedness of all life. 12 color plates, 31 halftones.