“If you thought birds were the first animals to fly you’d be wrong,” intones Oprah Winfrey in the introduction to the Life episode "Insects." “Insects did it 100 million years before birds got off the ground… insects live hard and die young.” Your challenge, as the viewer of this rich documentary, is to watch the entire hour without scratching.
Insects are interesting, but they are also—shall we say—icky. I wouldn’t say all bugs are icky (I guess I’m not a total girly-girl), and I will admit that a lot of them are interesting and quite resourceful. Let’s face it, though, there are too many of them. Ninety percent of the animals in the world are insects. Insects! The majority of them fly. And, if I’m not mistaken, the majority of the flying ones fly around my house.
I can’t walk out the door without being surrounded by wood bees, males looking for mates and boring into my porch roof, building tunnels and nests. I don’t need to go outside, or open a window, to hear their ferociously loud buzzing. Bees are subjects of “Insects,” but the documentary features Dawson’s bees and honeybees, “the alchemists of the insect world.” The honey they produce is one of nature’s richest foods (and one of my favorites).
“Insects” brings us all kinds of bugs—some weighing less than a postage stamp, some with nasty defense systems, some scary, some beautiful. What they all have in common, we learn, are three body sections, six legs, and body armor. Because so many of them fly, they have colonized every habitat on earth.
In Patagonia, you will meet Darwin’s stag beetle, the insect with the most powerful jaws. The male mates with a female in a tree, 80 feet above the ground. First he must climb the tree, then fight off her other potential suitors (which he tosses off the tree—plummeting large beetles, oh my!) before he can make a date, which lasts about six seconds. Once his quest is satisfied, he tosses her off the tree.