Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Book Review - Wasps - Princeton University Press

 


     The subtitle to this wonderful book says it all: The astonishing diversity of a misunderstood insect.
     I am quite sure that I am not unlike many who have traditionally viewed bees with equanimity and wasps with dread. It seems almost impossible to induce a bee to sting you (and when it does it pays with its life), but a wasp seems to sting for no reason at all, and what's more is capable of stinging over and over again. And it hurts! Wasps seem just mean!

     This amazing book will open your eyes and your mind to wasps in all their incredible diversity, in ways you never dreamed of. They are truly remarkable insects - with multi-faceted lifestyles  - and deserve our appreciation and understanding.

     To quote directly from the book, "It is a naturally human desire to see other animals as inferior to us, but wasps give us ample reason to call our superiority into doubt. Female wasps are capable of astounding feats of fearlessness, strength, navigation and parental care. Their instincts maintain enough plasticity to allow them to overcome novel problems. They lack a mammalian level of intellect, yet they not only survive, they thrive, in a diversity of ecosystems."

     Those that are prone to sting humans give us ample warning by their aposematic colouration, advising quite clearly, "Don't mess with me!' With a little common sense and good judgement, you can almost always avoid situations where a wasp poses a threat. 
     We should never overlook that wasps are beneficial in our gardens, in controlling populations of caterpillars that are capable of reducing your cabbages to shreds. Many are solitary insects that go about their business unnoticed, inconspicuous by their very nature. Many have no sting - quite unlike the paper wasps and yellowjackets that may find your house a perfect place to raise their young. Most wasps, however, use their sting as a way of subduing prey, not as a weapon of defence.

     This book covers every facet of wasp biology, anatomy, habitat, lifestyle, reproduction, abundance, distribution - there is not a single aspect of wasp existence, current or historical, that is not examined in detail. Some of the adaptations employed by different species will amaze you.

     At the end of the book there is a "Wasp Family Album" - an excellent reference illustrating the diversity of wasps - a sort of Who's Who of the Hymenoptera aristocracy.

     There are tips on wasp watching - safely, and with a view to contributing to scientific knowledge. An excellent glossary is included and a bibliography of eighteen other works enables the keen wasp enthusiast to pursue further study. Computers are the tool of choice for many these days, and online resources are also listed.

     I am encouraged to read: "The relationships between people and wasps are likely to become much friendlier in the future, provided we listen to, and trust, scientists. There is no substitute for dedicated study in illuminating the importance of other creatures to our human world."
     Amen to that!

Wasps - Princeton University Press
Author: Eric R. Eaton
US$29.95, £25.00 - ISBN: 9780691211428
Published: USA - 9 March 2021
                UK - 11 May 2021
256 pages - 150 colour photographs - many colour charts and illustrations
6.13 x 9.25 in. (15.325 x 23.125 cm)
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.

46 comments:

  1. When one thinks of wasps, it's the sting that comes to mind. I am sure there are many more interesting aspects. Like you mentioned the role it plays in our gardens. Actually there are many things that we can learn from these fellow living beings.

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  2. Hi David,
    I'm not very happy about wasps, but I know they are important in nature. Thank you for another great Book Review!

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  3. Hari OM
    Dash it all - another added to the wish list!!! YAM xx

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  4. Interesting for certain, I’ve always dreaded wasps and although I do dread them we’ve never taken measures to destroy them, knowing that they do great service to our property. They just always seem so threatening, so very very aggressive, they don’t look as cute as bees , they have more of a warrior look to them I suppose that doesn’t help their cause but now my vision is so poor I find large flying insects to give me more concern,, you just never know do you lol,, interesting book, I’m always anxious to learn more about the creatures around us, thanks!

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    1. I think that most of us flinch when we see one, Laurie. Their sting is very painful and to be avoided if at all possible.

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  5. "It is a naturally human desire to see other animals as inferior to us, but wasps give us ample reason to call our superiority into doubt. How true that is - and not just about wasps. It is equally true of many, many birds, other animals and insects.
    The one and only time I have been stung by a wasp I was swimming. It stung me (repeatedly) in my underarm. A criticism of my style?

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  6. Hello Both,
    Wasps are extremely useful except when they sting, which has happened to me numerous times unfortunately.
    All the best
    John

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    1. I am amazed they can penetrate that tough, leathery old skin! The worst sting I had was when I got into the shower, not realizing there was a wasp on the floor, and when I stepped on it stung me on the bottom of my foot. Not an experience I recommend!

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  7. I know they are beneficial to nature and I admire that but I just don't care to be close to a wasp.

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  8. I always try to give wasps a wide berth but I had an accidentally encounter with one earlier this spring when I placed my hand on one while I was sitting on a bench in my backyard. Boy, did that hurt! And not just for a few minutes but for hours and the sting site still bothered me for days afterward. They are tiny but powerful. They serve their purpose in the environment and deserve our respect.

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    1. Some species pack a powerful venom, no question about that!

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  9. So true … one looks kindly upon bees but wasps, indeed, are often viewed as the evil cousin. A closer inspection would definitely be an eye-opener. It seems that whatever creation we study in depth, details of awesomeness are inevitably revealed … and wasps certainly would be no exception.

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  10. I am happy to note that is a small "c" creation!

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  11. One note -- bumblebees can sting repeatedly, because their stingers don't have barbs and aren't lost in the process of stinging. I know this from sad experience. The day I learned some bumblebees nest in the ground, I learned they don't like their nests being disturbed, even by accident. I came away with six stings from ankle to thigh, and a very healthy respect for the protective instincts of the bee! Wasps also have a barbless stinger, so can sting repeatedly.I'm sure the book's full of other helpful and interesting tidbits!

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  12. Wasps are nasty. Have had a few stings over the years.

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  13. Gracias por la reseña, parece interesante aprender mas de las avispas te mando un beso

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  14. The word wasp gives me the heebies jeebies! Not fun being stung by one!

    Happy Weds, David!

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  15. They are a creature I'm not fond of at all, thankfully we hardly have any here in summer even though we barbecue most evenings.

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  16. Thanks for the review, David, but I must confess to being scared of wasps, and try to avoid them when I can! I know they are useful insects, so I don't harm them, I just don't want them near me! Hugs, Valerie

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  17. Hi David - I'd love to read this book ... I've been wanting to learn more about wasps ... so I must see if the library can get it for me. Princeton's books are always so relevant - thanks for this - Hilary

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    1. I hope the library gets it for you! Hilary. No doubt others will be interested too.

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  18. Sounds an interesting read, but it'll take more than 256 pages to persuade me that the wasp that I sat on in the toilet many years ago was a loveable little rogue. OK, he was there first and he came out of the encounter much worse than I did, but I remain unconvinced.

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    1. I am sure that the affront to your nether regions was unpleasant, but what a story you have to tell! Not the kind of experience to endear you to the wasp, however. In that I am in complete agreement!

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  19. We don't have so many problem wasps here as there are in other parts of the world - fortunately. We get an occasional European wasp incursion - usually near ports from a ship stowaway and they are dealt with very fast so I find them interesting more than threatening. They are fascinating creatures when you find out more about them.

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  20. J'ai déjà été piquée par des guêpes et des abeilles mais je ne leur en veux pas. j'aime bien les guêpes, il y'en a beaucoup qui viennent dans mes hôtels à insectes. Bon, certaines guêpes parasitent les œufs déposés dans les abris des abeilles mais c'est la nature.
    Elles sont utiles comme vous dites pour détruire les chenilles et autres au jardin. Elles sont précieuses. Bonne journée

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  21. It's a funny thing David, I work in my garden all the time in close contact with bees, they don't bother me at all, the minute a wasp appears on the scene, the tension rises 😉 Doesn't happen very often though.

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    1. I think your reaction mirrors that of most people.

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  22. Hello,
    Interesting book on the wasp, great review. I am ok with any insect that stays away from me.
    Take care, enjoy your day!

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  23. Het zal zeker een mooi boek zijn David.
    Er is veel in de insectenwereld wat wij nog niet weten, ieder insect heeft zijn waarde.
    Mooi om hier aandacht aan te geven.
    Groetjes Tinie

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    1. I wish more people would understand that, Tinie.

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  24. Buenos días querido amigo, otra buena reseñas nos aportas hoy, ¡Gran libro!
    Un fuerte abrazo y buen resto de semana.

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  25. David, I will confess to being terrified of wasps, especially when they have found a way inside. It seems to me that a wasp knows if you are trying to eliminate it and becomes more aggressive, and I will admit to having won the battle in some cases.

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    1. We are entitled to self-preservation too, Beatrice!

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  26. The insects on the cover look like aliens.

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  27. We have had to have the guy in almost every year to remove wasp nests, I react very badly to stings and they always seem to pick stupid places to nest like right over the top of the front door and under the tiles!!! If they nest far away from the house, or in a place I can avoid, then we let them be. It will take a lot for me to enjoy having wasps around, though I am happy to photograph them if the are peaceful!! Cheers Diane

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    1. I am in full agreement, Diane, not something you want in, on or close to your house.

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  28. I still refuse to welcome them to our porch!

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  29. Your book reviews are always well worded and enjoyable to read! I especially loved this: "a sort of Who's Who of the Hymenoptera aristocracy."

    I will admit I'm not a fan of wasps, yellow jackets, etc. So this review opened my eyes to a different point of view about them. I'll still keep my distance, though.

    And I think you've touched on a recurring theme about humans: many seem to have some sort of arrogance, or what have you, about "we" are the only species on this planet with any intelligence, the only one with parental bonds, etc.

    I still remember the Nature program I watched, with a segment on cheetahs. When the two cubs reached a certain age (they looked full grown, but were probably still in the juvenile age rage), their mother sneaked away and left them. They were at the age where they could be on their own, so her motherly duties were done (with them, at least, and she was probably off to mate again). Those two cheetah "cubs" cried for their mother. It was somewhat heartbreaking to watch. But they had emotions, just like we do.

    And in the same episode, or perhaps a different one, a mother cheetah mourned her tiny cub, who was killed by a lion. As the narrator said: lions don't kill the cubs to eat them, they kill them to eliminate a (future) competitor for food. And instinctively, when cheetah cubs are small and left hidden somewhere, they know not to make a sound, especially if lions are nearby. Yet sometimes they are found, anyway, and seeing that mother cheetah's sorrow was palpable.

    And then there are captive cheetahs in zoos or preserves (or some such), where they raise the cheetah with a companion dog, so that the cheetah is less stressed out in the environment, and the two form a bond.

    There are so many examples of animals having the same emotions as us humans, yet some of us humans are too arrogant (or whatever) to even consider that is possible.

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    1. Thank you very much indeed for this lengthy, thoughtful response.

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  30. It's a good review David. I never liked wasps. They have made 4 (!) nests under my summer cottage roof and always flew around the dinner plates. If I read this book I might like them :-)

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    1. Flying around the dinner plates is not a way to endear themselves!

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  31. I acknowledge that whasps are important to nature, but I must admit that I want to avoid their stings and thus the wasps.

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  32. Un libro que me encantaría tener, me parece muy interesante. Un abrazo querido amigo.

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