A behavioural ecologist transforms our understanding of wasps, exploring these much-maligned insects’ secret world, their incredible diversity and complex social lives, and revealing how they hold our fragile ecosystem in balance.
... [a] detailed, example-rich study ... Most interesting are the sections celebrating the chemical language of wasps ... The book is, unsurprisingly, a love letter to an 'old', 'beautiful' and 'bizarre' animal – one that surpasses almost all other insects in age, diversity and genealogical abundance. But in creating a rationale for adoration, Sumner has uncovered much deeper questions. How do we decide which creatures to love? What role do aesthetics play in what we deem 'good' and 'bad'? ... Seirian Sumner shows us the wider damage of learning from, and protecting, only that which appeals to us. Ultimately we are offered a small but noteworthy antidote: a lesson in practising unbiased appreciation, beyond the metrics of our own value systems.
Sumner’s book has emerged winged, but it does not quite take to the air. She insists that the 100,000-plus species of wasp — an omnivorous insect that is the ancestor of both the bee (a vegetarian wasp) and the ant (wingless wasp) — are 'genuinely fascinating'. but she spends an inordinate amount of time talking about bees. One feels for her. We love bees. Also, the amount of research by entomologists into bees outnumbers that into wasps by a factor of three, leaving Sumner to lament about wasps: 'We know little.' This is admirably honest, if unsatisfying for a reader ... Short of material, she takes a pages-long flight of fantasy into dinner with Aristotle, complete with baklava and 'comfort break'. God knows what 'Aris', the first entomologist, makes of the embarrassing episode, but her editors should have killed it. While they were doing their job, they might have attended to Sumner’s overall style, which is the overly jolly imperative of the lecturer faced with a bunch of particularly duff undergrads at 9am on a Monday morning ... Where Sumner truly hits the target is answering the solipsistic question, 'What is the point of wasps?' for us humans.
... thought-provoking, joyous and ebullient ... Sumner sets the record straight and illuminates some of the esoteric mysteries and unexpected competences of these enigmatic insects. In so doing Ms. Sumner, an entomologist and behavioral ecologist, and a professor at University College London, charms her readers into realizing that the pesky, whirring, anxiety-provoking yellow jackets and other species of wasps that scuttle our picnics and torment our summer afternoons, are not mischievous villains so much as highly underestimated and misunderstood philanthropists ... Ms. Sumner’s own invocations of wasp characteristics, behavior, social life and culture sparkle with curiosities and insights ... suggests, in an entertaining manner, that we need to re-examine our relationships with nature, and the multitude of critters it comprises. Doing so would have profound consequences in an age when technological innovations continue to displace and disrupt the lives of wasps and other species. Seirian Sumner’s compelling account of nature’s coherent beauty teaches that it is time for the utilitarian attitude toward nature to be replaced with appreciation and conservation, something long overdue.