Here’s a book I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while, Jay Hosler’s Last of the Sandwalkers (First Second, April 2015). If you haven’t seen an early copy of this book, you’re in for a treat, especially if you love science and/or graphic novels. That’s because it’s a graphic novel created by a biology professor/entomologist and cartoonist, and it tells the story of Lucy, a beetle (a “sandwalker”), who loves to explore and investigate. She lives in a community of beetles, which includes a group of elders who harbor a secret about the world beyond the palm tree in the desert where they live. Lucy, who puts the spunk in spunky, heads out into the wild world to discover its secrets, even breaking the rules to do so — and learns that beetles aren’t the only creatures in the world.
This is an entertaining story that packs in a lot of science — but also much more. As the Publishers Weekly review notes, Hosler “mingles themes of family, forgiveness, and freedom of ideas, and even manages to make big-eyed, mandibled crawlers emotive without getting too cartoony.” There’s a lot of adventure packed into this graphic novel.
First Second invited Jay, pictured above, to visit a small handful of blogs and share, at each one, an original drawing, as well as beetle facts. An original drawing. I just couldn’t say no, given that 7-Imp is, for all intents and purposes, an art blog. And I’m happy to post about the book, given it’ll be a big hit, in particular, with children who love to read about science (but not limited to just them, by any means). Pictured above is the Bark Beetle. They’re characters in the book, but below are all kinds of fun facts about them, straight from Jay:
Character Name: The Bark Beetle Gang
Species: Dendroctonus ponderosae
Length: 5 mm
Habitat: Pine forests
Superpower: Giant killer
Imagine a bowl of rice attacking a big, mature ponderosa pine tree and killing it. That would be pretty impressive for a bowl of rice. Now imagine that this was an outbreak of killer rice and the little buggers went on to destroy 70,000 square miles of pine forests. This is precisely what is happening in the western United Stets and Canada, except the culprit isn’t rice, but rice grain-sized bark beetles.
Now, to be fair, despite the devastation, these little beetles aren’t mustache-twirling villains. They’re actually a normal part of a healthy pine forest ecosystem. Bark beetles live on and in pine trees. They lay their eggs under the bark and consume both living and dead tissue in the trees. The trees fight back by secreting toxins or resin to kill the beetles, but bark beetles typically only attack weak or dying trees that can’t put up much of a fight. Consequently, bark beetles play an important role in removing older, less healthy trees form a forest and making it easier for younger, stronger trees to take their place. Unfortunately, this delicate balance has recently been upset, and there has been a massive outbreak of bark beetles that has overwhelmed healthy, as well as more susceptible, trees. The result is a devastating loss of forest. There are number of possible reasons for this outbreak, but climate change seems to be playing a significant role.
Over the last several years, rising warming global temperatures have made summers drier and winters milder in the western U.S. and Canada. These changes have a cascading effect. Drier summers and an increasing number of droughts have weakened more pine trees and made them susceptible to attack by bark beetles. In addition, milder winters have allowed the bark beetle to reproduce more frequently and spread into new forests full of trees that have not evolved defenses against their attacks. As a result, bark beetles are on the most wanted list of insect pests and are only one of two beetle species to have their genome sequence. The hope is that the more scientists know about their behavior and genetics, the more likely they will be to find a means of controlling the outbreak.
In Last of the Sandwalker, our intrepid band of beetle scientists meets an insipid band of bark beetles during their first foray into the wild. These little pests make a nuisance of themselves, but our heroes soon learn that their bark is much worse than their bite.
Many thanks to Jay for the drawing. If you want to see even more from the book, here’s the list of blogs he’ll be visiting in the next couple of weeks.
The Bark Beetle drawing is copyright © 2015 Jay Hosler.
Photo of Jay taken by Lisa Hosler and used by his permission.