We bring you this important news bulletin about Amy Stewart’s Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & other Diabolical Insects (May 2011).
Amy Stewart is also the author of the New York Times and Indie Next bestsellers Wicked Plants and Flower Confidential. You may have seen her byline in the New York Times yesterday: Her opinion piece, “Leaves of Grass, an Illegal Story,” chronicled an amusing story about her antiquarian bookstore, Eureka Books, and a very mysterious package.
Amy’s had a few previous opinion pieces appear in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere, and she’s written for a large variety of national publications, including every major gardening magazine. Most recently, she’s been hired as a contributing editor at Fine Gardening magazine. She’s also appeared on hundreds of regional and national radio and TV programs, including CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s Morning Edition, and Good Morning America. Today, Amy tells us a little story about what it was like while working on Wicked Bugs.
One day last year, an e-mail arrived from Briony Morrow-Cribbs, the artist whose copperplate etchings illustrate Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs.
“Just reading about these bugs is making me itch,” she said. “Are you having that problem?”
I was. During the research phase of this book, every itch seemed like the bite of a scabies mite. Every aching joint felt like Lyme disease. And let’s just say I didn’t eat a lot of solid food while I was writing the chapter on intestinal parasites.
But you want to know what bug scared me the most? The death watch beetle. This little creature lives in the rafters of old homes and eats a bit of wood—but that isn’t how it got its fearsome name. It got its name from the way it calls to its mate by tapping quietly against the beams.
People once thought that the tap-tap-tap of the beetle foretold the death of someone in the house. Many a person has been kept awake on a summer night by the ominous sound of the death watch moving closer. Even Tom Sawyer was put off by it: Mark Twain wrote that “the ghastly ticking of a deathwatch in the wall at the bed’s head made Tom shudder–it meant that somebody’s days were numbered.”
A bug has to eat. And it has to call to its mate, and it has to start a family. I’m sure the death watch beetle doesn’t mean to disturb our sleep—it’s just singing a love song. The same could be said of any of the creatures in Wicked Bugs. They don’t mean any harm—but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep you awake at night. Or, in the case of the tsetse fly, put you right to sleep.
But you don’t have sleeping sickness! Or do you?