Publication Day: Wicked Bugs

Amy Stewart, author of the New York Times bestsellers Wicked Plants and Flower Confidential, is back with her newest book, Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects. (Be sure to see the hilarious trailer for the book at bottom, where you’ll also find an excerpt.) And, as is typical with Stewart’s books, there’s been a wealth of national media attention, including a New York Times interview; a Fresh Air interview; and an NPR Weekend Edition interview.

Wicked Bugs is a darkly comical look at the sinister side of our relationship with the natural world. Stewart details over one hundred of our worst entomological foes–insects that infest, infect, and generally wreak havoc on human affairs.  With wit, style, and exacting research, she 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.

To celebrate, we’re giving away three copies of the book and three cute, cuddly stuffed bookworms, courtesy of Giant Microbes. Just leave a comment detailing your worst bug encounter–you can post it here on our blog or on our Facebook page and you’ll automatically be entered.

Want to purchase an autographed/personally inscribed book for yourself or a friend? Visit Stewart’s website for details. It would make a great Mother’s Day present, don’t you think?


Watch the book trailer:

Read an Excerpt:
Excerpt from Wicked Bugs

30 Comments On This Post:

May 3, 2011
11:05 am
Jacqueline D'Elia says...

My worst bug encounter was picking up a large flat garden stone to move in the garden. I pulled it up to rest on my upper body (ok my chest) and as I was carrying it soon started to feel hot stinging bites all over. I was covered in FIRE ANTS. I dropped the stone, grabbed a garden hose (while screaming), turned the nozzle and FULL FORCE blasted myself. Needless to say, I spent the next week with itchy painful discusting bites. Now, I always check stones for ants now before lifting. LESSON LEARNED.

May 3, 2011
11:10 am
cathy says...

My worst bug encounter has to be when my husband and I were living in our first apt…basement unit…I began the day as usual…sitting in the living room on the couch and out of the corner of my eye I see a huge huge huge spider …first of all now don’t think I am telling a fish story and I’m saying he was bigger then he actually was but I know what I saw…he was as big as they come for around here in Iowa…anyways I acted like the movies scences and the woman and the mouse…standing on the couch screaming for my husband that is more afraid then I he comes running in there both the spider and him stop and stare at each other as in an old wild west movie waiting for the draw….slowly my husband grabs the close by hairspray…and sprays the heck out of him and throws a bowl over him…he slides a piece of cardboard under the bowl sprays some more hairspray as he ever so slowly once again lifts the edge of the bowl up…runs outside and smashes him like there is no tommorrow…we had similar times…and figured out the source of these visitations….but we learned that as they say they are just as scared of you as you are of them….

May 3, 2011
11:12 am
Anna says...

Halfway through eating a nice Belgian 72% chocolate bar, I noticed it contained some maggots. Eeeeeeuuuuuuuuwwwwwwww! That put me off chocolate bars for quite some time. Even when I did resume eating chocolate, I couldn’t help but inspect it first.

May 3, 2011
11:22 am
Jen. says...

My worse bug incident was when I awoke to Japanese Beetles in my hair while sleeping by my mother’s roses. They were evidently attracted to the organic, flower-based shampoo I just started using (and quickly stopped)!

May 3, 2011
11:23 am
April Chase says...

I used to live in a trailer in the Deep South and it had a terrible flea infestation in the carpets. It was a rental so I couldn’t tear the carpets out and throw them away; I tried everything I could think of to get rid of them but they just kept coming back! And I was too broke to move… My feet and ankles were covered with bites. The chemical sprays I tried gave me headaches. Outside, there was a plethora of other bugs that would bite me if I tried to escape by hanging out in the lawn. The only consistently successful way I found to stay away from all the wee beasties was to fill the bathtub up and just sit there. I spent many an evening sitting in a half-full tub of cold water (it was hot out!) crying. Awful.

May 3, 2011
11:34 am
Katie E-P says...

Oh my. This is a tossup. I think I’ll put one here and one on the facebook page 🙂

This one is more about my husband than me. We live in the south. Roaches (aka Water Bus) are a definite problem. Well, my dear husband kept saying he saw a roach on the counter in the mornings. I never saw them. Then he decided to clean out his Cuisinart coffee maker and run vinegar through, etc.

WELL, once the water started coming out, so did little cockroach wings and legs.


He cleaned it out six times. Still couldn’t get all of the parts out. We had to chuck it.

Can’t wait to read Amy’s new book!

May 3, 2011
11:37 am
commonweeder says...

As a beekeeper I was only occasionally stung by my honeybees, but one day I developed a severe allergy. After the trip to the hospital my husband was so nervous that he said we had to get rid of our single beehive asap. What made this a particular challenge is that our beehive was located on the second floor loft of our tractor shed. This location was chosen to keep the bees safe from bears, the kind of bears who had already destroyed two of our hives in the past. Our friend Paul who lived more than 2 miles away agreed to take the hives and a date was set. It was August. It was hot. It was so hot that instead of going to sleep inside that night, our very healthy hive needed lots of bees outside the hive, fanning their wings to cool the hive. My husband got up at 1 am and 2 am. Too many bees outside. Finally at 4 am he closed up the hive to keep the bees inside when it was moved. Our neighbor arrived at dawn with his pickup which was parked inside the shed, ready for the hive with the “supers” stapled together to be lowered into the bed of the truck. My husband and Paul tied a rope around the hive and prepared to lower it over the edge of the loft into the truck. Paul was on the ground and Henry in the loft lowering when the rope gave way. I was in the house (remember my allergy) watching out the window when I heard a thunk and then Paul and Henry came running out of the shed and out to the front of the house. They conferred and ran back into the shed, into the truck and came screaming across the yard and down the road, the hive upside down, but mostly intact, in the bed of the truck, with a stream of bees behind them. When they got to Paul’s house they tipped the hive right side up into the garden cart and then onto the spot that Paul had prepared. Paul tugged to try and make the hive a little more level – and then – he got stung. Henry never got stung. That’s my worst bug story, but I guess it isn’t really MINE. What we learned. Don’t use polypropylene rope for moving beehives.

May 3, 2011
11:41 am
Dot says...

My fondness of bugs as a child was moderated only by the rain of tent caterpillars onto the picnic table in the orchard at my Aunt & Uncle’s. That is, until the morning I woke in my bed with a spider (I swear it was ENORMOUS)dangling right above my face! I lay paralyzed & screaming until my mother came & rescued me. Even getting attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets as an adult was never as nightmare inducing as that spider encounter…

May 3, 2011
12:02 pm
Jennifer in MamaLand says...

Oooh! I’d love a cuddly bug – and a book, of course!
Worst bug encounter? We don’t have too many scary bugs (that I know of). Do the fruit flies that we struggle against every summer count??? Seriously, let me just tell you that sourdough and fruit flies do NOT go together well – or perhaps they go together too well. There is apparently nothing that drives fruit flies crazier than the smell of fermentation. 😮

May 3, 2011
12:05 pm
Kelli Rodda says...

My childhood home bordered a large park and a pond, and spiders were just part of landscape (interior and exterior). When I was 10, I got up in the middle of the night for a nature call.
In my half-asleep stupor, I stepped on a large wolf spider that was loaded with spiderlings. Spiders were scurrying everywhere — over my feet, under baseboards and across the carpet, which was about the same color as the spiders.
I let out a scream that would put Janet Leigh to shame. My father came sprinting across the living room, no doubt thinking an intruder was in the house. Instead, he found me on top of the coffee table wriggling and shaking like a giant Jell-O salad.
I didn’t go back to sleep that night. For a few weeks afterward, I had nightmares about spiders.
I had arachnophobia until my early 30s, when I moved to the country and had to share my home with spider species I’d never even seen before. I have a new respect for these creepy creatures, but I still shudder thinking about that late-night encounter.

May 3, 2011
12:21 pm
Laura Bell says...

Worst bug episode ? Perhaps the time I ran over a ground hornet nest with the lawn mower. I was stung dozens of times, mostly on the face. Just before the first day of high school, no less. Imagine showing up as a freshman with brand-new classmates sporting what looked like the worst case of acne in the history of the world !

May 3, 2011
1:15 pm
Nicole Deyton says...

I was on vacation with my girlfriend touring ruins in New Mexico when she snapped a picture of me – just as a bug flew into my ear. It was horrific (both the picture and the experience). I could hear and feel the bug fluttering about next to my eardrum the entire day. We tried getting it out with a q-tip and then with a swiss army knife tweezer set, but it only dug in deeper. We tried rinsing my ear out with warm water and an ear cleanser & the bug latched on. Later that day we drove to Las Vegas – as I was having to endure this bug exploring the depths of my inner ear – my friend had to endure the occasional turrets-like shouts as the bug moved about – over 8 hours of loud buzzing, rubbing, and tickling before we finally managed to get the darn thing out (it finally stuck its head out & we grabbed it with the tweezers). Even thinking about it now, I still feel the relief that washed over me 15 years ago.

May 3, 2011
1:26 pm
Liann says...

Discovering giant scorpions crawling precariously on the thatch ceiling of the beach palapa we had rented that evening on the Yucatan coast. It was really difficult to think about getting in bed and sleeping that night. We went to the little palapa bar nearby, thinking we at least needed a drink before trying to sleep. The locals told us not to worry too much about the huge scorpions. They would only make us tongue-numb if we were stung! It was the little ones that were deadly…..

May 3, 2011
1:39 pm
Kate says...

I was in Northern Thailand, on a raft on a small river, carefully focusing my camera on some sight or another, when all of a sudden I had the most astounding sharp pain in my ankle. There was a large wasp-like insect that had just stung me with no provocation. Within minutes my whole leg was numb, and it remained numb for several days. The guide who was with us was very concerned about my well-being, and helpfully started telling me stories about local people who had been killed by such wasps (fortunately adding that it takes at least 4 bites to kill an adult)

That would be my worst bug story 🙂

May 3, 2011
1:52 pm
roc_phd says...

My husband and I lived in Belize for a couple of years, and marching army ants came and stayed for about 2 weeks in the attic of our house. We got used to them, and they cleaned out many of the other bugs living there, but that first night, it was hard to sleep!

May 3, 2011
2:28 pm
Dan Long says...

I was in Kunming, China in August and saw live hornet larva in nests that were being sold by some of the vendors. You could buy food stuffs from the vendors and take them to a sidewalk cafe/restaurant to have them cooked. As we were waiting for our meal, the cook on a few occasions would run through the cafe to the street, and stomp on one of our hornets that were a little beyond the larva stage. The fried hornets were rather tasty. This story isn’t so much a bad encounter that I had with insects but a story of an insects worst nightmare!

May 3, 2011
2:53 pm
anne says...

A friend and I went for a late-Winter hike in the dry east end of the Columbia River Gorge. Beautiful, sunny day; we climbed up to the ridge top and half-way back down, stopping by some small brush oaks to sit and admire the view. Not paying much attention, engrossed in our conversation…..but minutes later, we were covered in swarms of the tiniest ticks I’ve ever seen. It was as if they’d been recently born and were starving, waiting for the first mammal to pass by, and that was us! We flew down to the parking lot, hopping in and out of our clothing along the way, in full sight of the interstate. No accidents though! And fortunately, no bites either.

May 3, 2011
4:29 pm
Elizabeth says...

When I was a kid at girl scout camp, a wasp got in our tent, so we all screamed and jumped into our sleeping bags and pulled them over our heads. I didn’t realize until quite too late that the little guy had heeded our warnings and jumped into my sleeping bag with me, where I had conveniently sealed him in. I got stung several times before I managed to get the wasp out of my sleeping bag. I never went to girl scout camp again!

May 3, 2011
5:36 pm
Diana in NYC says...

While visiting Tuscon, AZ, I checked in to my hotel, kicked off my shoes and walked barefoot around the room while putting away my things. As I opened the closed door a giant tarantula scurried out and had me jumping on the bed to get away from it. It was the largest, hairiest spider I’ve ever seen. I asked for and received a different room!

May 3, 2011
8:59 pm
Carol says...

Perhaps it was that first day of entomology class in college, walking into a building with hallways lined with cases full of insect specimens of all sizes, shapes, and colors. But I got over it and actually enjoyed studying insects. I’m ready to have my skin crawl with imaginary bugs while I read Wicked Bugs.

May 3, 2011
9:58 pm
tanya says...

The worst day was during a botanical medicine field trip in Arkansas and Missouri. We’d walked through a field with high grass earlier in the day, picked some dioscorea under the trees, and then sat outside to offer our blood to the mosquitoes. And it was hot, so lots of skin was exposed. The chiggers (new to me!) on my legs started intensely itching at about the same time as the poison ivy on my arms and the mosquito bites covering my arms, legs, and face. For 2 or 3 days, my goal in life was to have an itch-free moment.

May 3, 2011
11:52 pm
MSHDfred says...

If Amy’s book is half as good as May Berenbaum’s The Earwig’s Tail or Bugs in the System, I’ll have to read it at least twice.

– Fred

May 4, 2011
11:13 am
SRG says...

I am so very excited about this book! Here is my story of bugs…my son went camping 4 hours away with his grandmother where he promptly stepped into a hornets nest….ahhhh there is nothing more terrifying then getting that phone call! Happily he was fine after a doctors visit and some benedryl…

May 4, 2011
5:29 pm
Eva-Maria Ruhl says...

Eons ago, while in high school, I was briefly held captive by a wolf spider. It sat just outside the front door, so that my path to school that morning was blocked. I had never encountered a spider of such enormous size and such daring attitude. I immediately retreated and with much panic and gesturing explained to my mother that there was no way out of the house and that I would have to remain home until the creature had disappeared.
My mother, terrified by all crawling things, proved to be quite resourceful that day. She ran upstairs and returned with a can of hairspray. I will never forget how she opened the door with one hand and armed with the spray can in the other, faced the “enemy” and lacquered it!
Well, it worked. After several tense moments, there was no denying that the threat was gone and I could safely go to school. Mom collected the spider in a small box and I proudly presented the huge specimen to my biology teacher.
I sincerely hope that I will never encounter another spider like that, but if I do….

That is my bug story. Can’t wait to read the book!

May 4, 2011
7:11 pm
QOE says...

Swear this is true. Driving back to work at lunch time. Hot day. Windows down. Feel a tickle between my legs then OUCH. Yes, a bee stung me you-know-where. Of course, I’m allergic. Shot of epinephrin. Back to the office where I had to like on a couch in the break room because it felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. The ‘kind’ men in the office offered to pull the stinger out with their teeth. Really.

May 5, 2011
7:38 am
Renee says...

In second grade I kept a praying mantis cocoon in my school desk. Much to my delight one day, hundreds of 1/4″ babies emerged. My teacher was not amused. In fact, she was horrified, scolded me then ordered me to get them (and myself) out. She was so upset that she sent me home way before the end of the school day. I happily filled my lunchbox and took the babies home. The teacher didn’t realize that I rode the bus to school. I didn’t think to mention it since I knew the way home. The prayers of all those baby praying mantis must have kept me safe as I crossed two highways. Mom was furious with the teacher.

May 5, 2011
2:51 pm
Christine Holzschuh says...

Yes…chiggers….little invisible monsters that burrowed under the skin along the lines of underwear every summer in the mid-west. The unsocial scratching in public, unbearable itching all night, and generally creepy feelings would always lead to painting the hot mounds with stinging, blood-red nail polish, with the promise that it would suffocate the little buggers. Folks in the North East don’t believe these menacing critters could possibly be real.

May 5, 2011
9:44 pm
Fun Mama - Deanna says...

My worst bug encounter was last spring. A coworker had given us a huge bag filled with home grown broccoli. I was so excited. I started washing it off, and noticed green lumps about the size of my fingertip all over the stalk. I pushed on one. It was squishy. I tried soaking those suckers in a vinegar solution but only a few of the worms came off. I threw the whole batch away. I hated to waste it but I could not face those worms in my food.

May 6, 2011
10:40 pm
Randy says...

Trying to do a job interview on the cheap, I stayed overnight in a pretty run-down hotel in Manhattan…the job interview went well, but on my trip home, I noticed a large number of small blisters on my arms and legs–what I eventually realized were a dozen or so bed bug bites. That would have been bad enough, but some of the bites became infected and I spent a lovely day sitting in a walk-in clinic watching my right hand swell up so badly that my fingers were disappearing. My arm was on fire and the blister looked so bad, even the nurse turned away when she exposed it to see what was the matter. Two weeks of antibiotics later, I recovered from my staph infection, but the mental scars are still there 12 years later.

May 9, 2011
1:32 pm
Josh says...

My worst experience takes place 2 years ago in my friends house..we just got back from a 3 week vacation in Europe and we walk into his house,into the kitchen and i go to wash my hands, so as i turn on the faucet i hear a fizzling noise and suddenly out of the faucet hundreds of baby cockroaches and eggs pour out with the water, i scream on the top of my lungs and they start flying everywhere and some of them get mushed up by the water pressure and its flowing everywhere,they must of nested in there because my friends house is very dirty and we were gone for a while, i will never forget that horrible cockroach puree

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