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Dark Banquet
by Bill Schutt

c.2008, Harmony Books             
$25.95 / $30.00 Canada                       
320 pages

Dark Banquet

It’s bedtime, and you’re getting ready to tuck the kids in. Little sleepyheads that they are, you know a few quiet murmurs from you will lull them to sweet slumber.

“Night-night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

And with that sentiment – words you heard from your parents and they, from theirs and maybe even before that – the kids are wide awake.

 

Bed bugs? Bites? No way.

Yes, way. And not only do bedbugs bite, but chiggers, bats, and other creepy-crawlies do, too. Read all about them – if you dare – in the new book “Dark Banquet” by Bill Schutt.

If faced with a bat in your house, there’s one thing you know: it’s got to go.
Now.

But researcher Bill Schutt loves bats. He studies them, experiments with them, and gets up at the crack of dawn to drive to a slaughterhouse so he can get food for them. Specifically, blood-as-food, because Schutt studies vampire bats.

With help from Trinidad’s Ministry of Agriculture and a mentor, Dr. Farouk Muradali, Schutt had his very own colony of Diaemus youngi, the white-winged vampire bat. All vampire bats, including Diaemus, feed and survive solely on blood, mostly on that of large animals but occasionally on human blood. The fascinating thing that Schutt learned about his furry little vampires is that they’ve adapted other species’ behaviors to ensure a nice, warm place to dine.

Your chances of running into a Trinidadian white-winged vampire bat are kind of slim these days but if you check into a hospital, you might meet up with another creature for which dinner’s on you – literally. For hundreds of years, medical practitioners have known that leeches could be used for the good of the patient (but not so good for the leech; they’re euthanized after one medically-deemed feeding). Leeches, by the way, are the second living creature to be designated as a medical device. (What’s the first, you might ask?  Read the book).

And if all that doesn’t make you itchy already, let’s talk about those bedbugs. Your house is spotless so you don’t need to worry, right? 
Well, let’s just say that used sofa might not be such a bargain for you after all. And free delivery?  Might want to pass.

True, Halloween’s over, but it’s never a bad time to read a really good science book. “Dark Banquet” lands solidly in that category.

Part nature study, part history, part ecology, and with biting wit, author Bill Schutt adds a bit of cautionary tale to his book.  As much as he geekily appreciates the creatures he’s written about and as enthusiastically gleeful he is about them, Schutt admits to some squeamishness.  In the end, though, he freely points out that – whether we love them or are repulsed by them – our world needs bats, leeches, and blood-feeding bugs to keep various ecosystems balanced.

If you want to sink your teeth into a fascinating, lively science book this fall, you really can’t go wrong with this one. To miss “Dark Banquet” would be simply batty.

 
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