Across the country, this has been a bad year for mosquitoes, black flies and insects of all kinds. But it's nothing compared to what Amy Stewart documents in her new book, Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army and Other Diabolical Insects, which explores the most potent and feared insects the world has ever seen.
Stewart goes around the world in Wicked Bugs, and comes to a surprising conclusion: the most "wicked" bug of all is not a wasp the size of a sparrow or even a black widow spider, it's the everyday mosquito. Thanks to the ability to effortlessly move disease through human populations, the mosquito is the most deadly, most dangerous and most evil bug in the world.
"They are very successful at moving disease around," Stewart told The Current guest host Jim Brown in a recent interview. "They say that malaria has killed more people than all wars combined." But that's not all. Along with malaria, mosquitoes spread the West Nile virus, dengue fever, yellow fever and many other deadly diseases. In fact, Stewart says that "one in five insect-transmitted diseases are transmitted by the mosquito."
However, Wicked Bugs does more than terrify readers. It also offers interesting anecdotes and keen insight into how bugs are treated around the world — and even how they have changed the course of history. For example, did you know that body lice played an important role in the defeat of Napoleon?
When Napoleon returned from Russia after having lost more than half his entire army, there were several reasons for this devastating loss: terrible weather, lack of supplies and a manifestation of body lice in the soldiers' uniforms.
"The troops were wearing the same uniform pretty much all winter long," Stewart explained. "Body lice lives in the seams of clothing. So they lay their eggs in clothing and they bite people." And, unlike head lice, body lice can spread diseases, causing thousands of soldiers to fall ill and be unable to fight.
So the next time you see a cockroach, a mosquito or a bedbug, don't just freak out. Remember the often important — and occasionally terrifying — role these little critters place in ecology, society and history.
Watch the trailer for Wicked Bugs below.
Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army and Other Diabolical Insects
by Amy Stewart
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"In this darkly comical look at the sinister side of our relationship with the natural world, Stewart has tracked down over one hundred of our worst entomological foes — creatures that infest, infect, and generally wreak havoc on human affairs. From the world's most painful hornet, to the flies that transmit deadly diseases, to millipedes that stop traffic, to the bookworms that devour libraries, to the Japanese beetles munching on your roses, Wicked Bugs delves into the extraordinary powers of six- and eight-legged creatures. With wit, style and exacting research, Stewart has uncovered the most terrifying and titillating stories of bugs gone wild. It's an A to Z of insect enemies, interspersed with sections that explore bugs with kinky sex lives ("She's Just Not That Into You"), creatures lurking in the cupboard ("Fear No Weevil"), insects eating your tomatoes ("Gardener's Dirty Dozen") and phobias that feed our (sometimes) irrational responses to bugs ("Have No Fear"). Intricate and strangely beautiful etchings and drawings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs capture diabolical bugs of all shapes and sizes in this mixture of history, science, murder, and intrigue that begins but doesn't end in your own backyard."