Entomologist James Augustus Hyslop was once, and for many years, a valiant insect fighter. Back in 1908, Hyslop en listed in the bug-fighting army of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He poisoned grasshoppers, battled boll weevils, spied out numberless insects with a view to their undoing. Finally, as boss of the Insect Pest Survey and Information, he and his minions slew bugs by the billions. But as he got to know the enemy, a change came over Hyslop : he began to see things from the insect's point of view.
Last week, retired to his pleasant Mary land farm, Entomologist Hyslop was ad mittedly a pro-insect man; his enemy had won him over. It was all in the record: 189 notebooks, his life work. In print, his Encyclopedia of Economic Insects, describing the life & times of 30,000 North American species, will fill 1,900 pages, from Abacarus hystrix (a mite) to Zygogramma exclamationis (a beetle).
The work lists the offenses that insects are guilty of (they eat man's crops and belongings; they carry diseases; they buzz and they bite). But to catalogue their virtues, Hyslop uses more than twice as much space. For man's benefit and pleasure, he points out, insects produce silk, shellac, beeswax and honey. They pollinize plants. They improve the soil by burrowing into it and dying. Singing crickets and fighting crickets are part of show business to the Chinese. Some insects, including locusts, ants, beetles and caterpillars, are food for some people (the Hyslop family tried the 17-year locust, fried, but found the dish tasteless).
Hyslop does not judge insects by their works; he loves them for themselves. With downright affection, he recalls attractive insects he has known. There is the strong-jawed "short-circuit beetle," for instance, that gnaws into lead cables. There are insects that live in crude petroleum. There is a clever bug (Dermatobia hominis, an invader from South America) that catches flies, lays its eggs on the flies' legs, then releases them unhurt to carry the larvae to man (where they burrow under the human skin). As Hyslop talks, bugs by the thousand that he has known and loved creep or fly winningly through his memories.
"Both men and insects," says Hyslop, "have a right to'live on the earth. But we slap the insect downput DDT on him. The average man thinks of insects as a pest, that we'd be better off without them. We wouldn't; we'd be extinct. When people say to me, 'What use is an insect?' I answer, 'What use are you?' '