In the late 1940s when computers filled the room with blinking lights, noise and lots of heat, one of the duties of the computer operator before running a program was to take off the panels and flush out the moths that had worked their way into the internal workings of the computer. Thus the phrase ‘debugging the computer’ was born. This was just one of many stories told by Richard Jones in his new book House Guests, House Pests: A Natural History of Animals in the Home
We also learn the pivotal role played by Charles Woodworth who in 1900 suggested a garden pest as a useful model for student study. Harvard University soon began using Drosophila melanogaster
which became one of the leading genetics tools throughout the 20th century. Advanced Placement Biology students across North America continue to learn their hands-on genetics lessons performing fruit fly experiments.
Richard Jones writes extensively about his lifelong obsession with bugs that invade our homes. He has taken great pains to determine where these creatures lived prior to becoming so dependent on humans that they are now generally not found anywhere else. In his final chapter, Jones asks us to use caution when dealing with household pests. He notes that it is far safer to use a vacuum cleaner than it is to enshroud our homes in a canopy and pump in heavy duty chemical vapours to get rid of a pest invasion. He also pleads with us to make sure we use a professional if our problem requires a more extreme use of pesticides.
Jones admits that his book is Anglocentric. After all, he explains, he lives in England and most of the experiences he writes about are from his home. For those of us who live in Alberta where it can be drier in the summer and colder in the winter than it is in England, Jones’ book may describe a lot of issues that do not directly affect us, yet I found it to be a compelling read. I liked the way he melds his experiential knowledge with scientific information giving each species its own unique story. This is a fascinating book for all those interested in general science. It would make a great addition to a high school library, and if you are a high school biology teacher it’s a nice summer read.
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