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Don't miss the sample chapters below!


R. D. Akre, G. S. Paulson, & E. P. Catts

A fascinating account of more than 80 insect "firsts."  Velcro, bungee jumping, air conditioning, and chemical warfare are a few of the firsts covered in this book authored by three professional entomologists.  Illustrations include humorous anthropomorphized insects as well as photos and micrographs.  It is written for a general audience but is of special interest to teachers and entomologists. 



 1. Architects

 2. Gourmet

 3. Tunnel Builders

 4. Paper

 5. Antifreeze

 6. Camouflage

 7. Warning Coloration

 8. Flight

 9. Bikinis

10. Communication by Sound

11. Air Conditioning

12. Food Storage

13. Domestic Animals

14. Highways

15. Recycling

16. Slavery

17. Gardening

18. Compass

19. Sewing or Lashing

20. Scuba Diving

21. Chemical Defense

22. Antibiotics/Medicines

23. Perfumes/Pheromones

24. Radar/Sonar

25. Radar Jamming Device

26. Fungicides

27. Social Behavior/Societies

28. Glue

29. Dominance Hierarchies

30. Insect Control

31. Gift Giving

32. Construction Materials

33. Plywood

34. Brain Washers

35. Pipe Liners

36. Caste

37. Reinforced Tubing

38. Cannibalism

39. Thermometer

40. Full of It!

41. Kamikaze

42. Puffed Up or Inflation of the Body

43. Drug Use

44. Following Signs

45. Problems With Insects

46. Armor

47. Vampire

48. Polluters

49. Hypodermic

50. Acrobats

51. Blinking Neon Sign

52. Velcro

53. Superball

54. Original Big or Swelled Heads

55. Natural Polyesters

56. Begging

57. Tool Use

58. Opposable Thumb

59. Mimicry

60. Bungee Jumpers

61. Robbers

62. Clocks

63. Baskets and Pots

64 Ballooning

65. Preservation Without Freezing

66. Head Screwed on Straight?

67. Communes

68. Alphabet

69. Humming

70. Fishing Net

71. Dyes

72. Break Sound Barrier

73. Cannon

74. Arms Race

75. Bridges

76. Sexual Bias

77. Red Light District

78. Kinky Sex

79. Sexual Bondage

80. Switch Sex.

81. Gays

 Orders of Insects




The  original ideas on "insects did it first" started with Dr. Roger Akre's first class in general entomology at Washington State University in 1964.  Each time some advanced human technology, such as radar or sonar, became the topic of the day Roger realized that "people aren't really all that original - insects did it first."  Soon he started writing down all the ideas that occurred to him on this topic, even in the middle of lectures, be it general entomology, insect behavior, or insect morphology.

Dr. Akre also started to make color slides of insects with the idea that perhaps he could someday make "first's" a special topic in his general entomology class.  He was aided in his endeavors by several colleagues with artistic talents, Paul Catts and Robert Harwood, both entomologists at Washington State University, and by Dr. William B. Garnett, from the University of Cincinnati.  All produced cartoons of the topics for slide lectures.  The topics grew and interest was expressed by a great number of people, especially those who give insect talks to young scientists from the age of 3 to 30.  They wanted copies of the slides and references to the material to create their own talks.

The thought of publishing "First" as a book occurred to Roger in 1986.  By this time, students, colleagues, and friends were well acquainted with his interests in this area, and one, Greg Paulson, even located a book in 1987 that was similar in topic to the contents of this book.  Lucy Berman and Roy Combs published "Wonderbaarlijke Nature" in Europe in 1971.  In 1972 an English translation of this book, entitled "Nature Thought of It First," was printed by Grosset and Dunlop.  Their book covers all animals, while ours concentrates solely on insects, treating them in much greater detail.  Still another book, with nearly identical ideas and even a close title, "Nature Invented It First," was authored by R. E. Hutchins (1980).

"Insects Did It First" is organized into 81 chapters; each concerns a different achievement in which insects have precedence over other animals, including humans.  Each chapter includes references to books and scientific papers in which the achievement or behavior is described.  In most instances, several different insects are used as examples to illustrate the variety and extent of the "first."  Each chapter is illustrated with a cartoon and, in many cases, a photograph.  When appropriate, the order and family of the insect are included in the text.  Family names can be easily recognized because they always end in -idea.  A complete list of the insect orders can be found on page 138.  Several topics in this book deal with sexual or other topics that some people might find sensitive, especially in regard to younger grade school children.  With this in mind we placed those chapters at the end of the book so they can easily be excluded if this is deemed appropriate.



We take paper for granted.  It is used in a vast number of ways- newspapers, magazines, books, packaging, boxes, and even tableware.  Modern paper is made by machines and is incredibly uniform in thickness and smoothness, essentially without blemish.  However, paper making was once a laborious process as plant fibers of various types were wetted and spread out to dry.

Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of years before mankind's first efforts, the world's first paper makers were collecting weathered fibers from plants that were chewed and mixed with saliva to make paper for nests.  These paper makers were the yellow jackets (Edwards 1980, McGovern et al. 1988, Spradbery 1973), umbrella or paper wasps, hornets, and the social wasps of the Central and South American tropics, the polybiines (Akre 1982)(all Hymenoptera: Vespidae).  The fiber they gather is made into a hard paper, called carton, used for constructing cells for their brood and the envelope which encloses the nest.  The nest envelopes often are of interesting color patterns depending on the source of the original plant fibers.  Some wasps even incorporate bits of sand into their paper for strength and hardness.
The envelope covering most nests is an excellent insulator.  It is laid down in layers with air spaces between.  Wasps make maximum use of dead air spaces in their nest construction to help regulate the internal temperature of the nest.  In addition, some species of yellow jackets build these paper nests in a cavity below the surface of the soil which also tends to protect the nest and brood from fluctuations in temperature.

Only birds, bats, insects, and humans fly.  Obviously the first into the air were the insects, and in many ways they are still the best and most versatile fliers.  The basic mechanism of flight is based on a click mechanism that suddenly transmits nearly all the stored muscle energy of the thorax to the down or power stroke of the wings (see Chapter  53) (Chapman 1982, Pringle 1975, Ross et al. 1982).  Variations in flying abilities include insects that have the ability to hover in one place such as dragonflies (Odonata), bot flies (Diptera: Oestridae), bee flies (Diptera: Bombyliidae), and hover flies (also known as flower flies) (Diptera: Syrphidae).  These insects possess a unique flip mechanism that causes the wing to sweep obliquely up and down through a small angle (Weis-Fogh 1975).  Certain damselflies (Odonata) in Panama are known locally as helicopter bugs because the movement of the golden stigma (pigmented spot on the forewings) as the insect hovers in flight is reminiscent of the colored rotors of helicopters.  These damselflies hover in front of spider webs while stealing prey from the web.

Most of what people learn is seen, not heard.  However, sound is obviously important to us as we have spoken languages and appreciate an array of sounds as music.  Insects also make music and make extensive use of sound for communication (Kerkut & Gilbert 1985, Wigglesworth 1972).  Some have extremely elaborate instruments for the production of these sounds (Snodgrass 1923).

Some termites and ants beat their heads against the walls of their nests to signal alarm, while certain aphids stomp their feet or bang their abdomens on the substrate to signal alarm to other aphids (Bowers et al. 1972).  Perhaps the most sophisticated and highly developed use of sound is by bees, including stingless bees and honey bees.   Honey bees, Apis mellifera L. (Hymenoptera: Apidae), emit pulse trains of sound, produced by wing vibration, during their waggle dance that convey information to nestmates about the distance to a food source (Esch 1967, Gould & Gould 1988, Winston 1987).  Species of Melipona (Hymenoptera: Meliponidae), a stingless bee, also use a "morse code" of sound to indicate distance to the food source to their hivemates (Esch 1967).  Other sounds made by honey bees include the warning buzz of disturbed workers and the piping of the queen that calms disturbed workers.  Other queen-produced sounds are tooting (sometimes called piping) and quacking.  Tooting is the sound made by a virgin queen soon after she emerges as an adult, and quacking is the sound made by new queens that are forcefully retained inside their cells by the workers.  Eventually, they are released to challenge all other queens (Wenner 1964).

The most complex song known for insects is produced by Uhler's katydid (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae)(Walker & Dew 1972), but even the lowly fruit flies (Diptera: Drosophilidae) produce songs of love and courtship (Bennet-Clark & Ewing 1970).

Humans have domesticated a few species of animals to use as beasts of burden or as food.  The more common domestic animals are cows, horses, pigs, chickens, dogs, and cats.  However insects kept "domesticated animals" much earlier than we did.  One such association is between certain ants and the larvae of lycaenid butterflies (blues) (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae).  The caterpillars possess special glands, called Hinton's glands, that produce an ant attracting chemical.  They also have a honey or Newcomer's gland that produces a substance the ants like to eat (Kistner 1982).  In return, the caterpillars are protected from insect predators by the ants.

A more familiar situation is presented by ants tending aphids (Homoptera: Aphididae) and other Homoptera (Wilson 1971).  This relationship is called mutualism because both the ants and the aphids gain mutual benefit from the association.  Mutualistic relationships exist between many genera and species of ants.  Not only do ants carry aphids to their host plants and protect them (Wilson 1971), but at least one ant species responds aggressively to an alarm pheromone (see Chapter 23) released by the aphids.  When the aphids are disturbed the ants will attack any insects or other intruders in the immediate area (Kistner 1982).
Ants, as well as some other kinds of insects, collect a sugary substance called honeydew that is excreted by a number of other sap-feeding insects in the order Homoptera including scales (Coccidae), pine/spruce aphids (Chermidae), psyllids (Psyllidae), treehoppers (Membracidae), leafhoppers (Jassidae), froghoppers (Cercopidae), and planthoppers (Fulgoridae) (Wilson 1971).  In one species, Trabutina mannipara (Ehrenberg) (Coccidae), the material is so abundant at times that it is collected by both ants and humans for food.  This is believed to be the manna mentioned in the Bible.