First aired on Quirks & Quarks (17/9/11)
Whether they fascinate you or freak you out, millions of creepy, crawly six-legged creatures are all around you. In fact, insects comprise more than 80 per cent of the animal species on Earth, and new ones arise all the time. Their diversity is matched only by their complexity. They're intelligent and organized, and their life cycle -- which often includes a bizarre sex life -- is truly intriguing. They are the subject of Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World, a new book by Dr. Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology at the University of California Riverside, that contends that insects can challenge our preconceived notions about pretty much everything.
Take intelligence, for example. Insects' brains are not structured and do not function like our brains. Instead, Dr. Zuk explained to Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald, "they have a handful of nerve cells that are sometimes clumped together in the head section" or "they are sometime strung out along the back of the animal." Despite this seemingly simple system, insects are capable of complex cognitive functions. "We have complicated communication, they have complicated communication. We have complicated social systems where individuals fill different social strata, they have complicated social systems where individuals fill different social strata," Dr. Zuk explained. "It tells you you don't have to have a big brain to do big things."
Another vastly misunderstood aspect of the insect world is their sex life. The sex life of insects is as diverse as the number of species in existence. The female of certain insect species can mate multiple times, then choose which sperm will inseminate her egg after mating. Katydid females mate with males in exchange for food. Male honeybees chase the queen bee and, if mating is successful, they explode and die. Dung flies will lay their eggs on fresh cow dung and the males will fight to possess the female -- even if it results in the female's death. Blue-tailed damselflies will mimic male colouring, prompting male damselflies to accidentally partner with other males.
With stories like this, human mating practices seem relatively simple.
The world of insects opens up questions and new ideas for how we interpret and interact with the world. Dr. Zuk just asks that we see insects for the complex creatures that they really are. After all, they are more like us than we realize.
"We're just trying to survive," she said. "That's true for all of us."
Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World
by Marlene Zuk Buy this book at:
"Sex on Six Legs
is a startling and exciting book that provides answers to these questions and many more. With the humor of Olivia Judson's Dr. Tatiana''s Sex Advice to All Creation
,Zuk examines not just the bedroom lives of creepy crawlies but also calls into question some of our own long-held assumptions about learning, the nature of personality, and what our own large brains might be for. "
Read more at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt