Not available in all toy shops

All those Star Wars Lego sets came in real handy after all

We are a Lego-enthusiast household and the brick box, already full to bursting, has just received a new injection of Christmas model sets. After the success of the spawn-of-the-Devil-maggot-child baby Jesus, three wise arms dealers and Bethlehem’s famous zombie carol singers, a Lego head louse seemed the obvious choice for a father/6-year-old bonding session.

And I have to say, I’m thrilled with the results. There is a certain pleasing anatomical correctness in its proportions, although perhaps the antennae could do with being a fraction longer. I particularly like the contrasting sclerotization of the thoracic and abdominal segments, and the translucent body showing the meandering blood-filled intestinal tract.

Oh, and it’s a female, you can tell by the prehensile nit-glue-manipulating gonopods at her tail end.

Next up…? A cat flea? Or a bed-bug maybe.

A new skill-set for the advanced nit-picker

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It’s lice, Jim, but not as we know it

Meet Gliricola (formerly Gyropus) gracilis, the louse of the variegated cavy and Docophorus ocellatus, the louse of the crow. Justine and I are adopting them as our lousy alter-egos. Obviously Justine Crow needs the crow louse. Pretty simple really. But there is no Jones louse. So what to do?

Flicking through Henry Denny’s 1842 louse monograph offered some interesting ideas. I did think of one of the lice of the jay (as in J for Jones), there are two species to choose from, but they are both very similar to the crow louse. Jays and crows are very closely related, and so too are their lice. I quite liked the sound of the louse of the cuckoo, especially as Denny has it as ‘cuckow’. Or there was louse of the gannet, louse of the spoonbill, and louse of the shoveller, if I wanted to emphasize my poor table manners. How about louse of the eagle, of the falcon or of the ‘kestril’? But these are all bird lice, and they all look very much like Justine’s crow louse.

Other alternatives were the louse of the stag (too grand), louse of the dog (too lowly), louse of the ferret (too comical) or louse of the campagnol (?) vole apparently, and too obscure anyway. But then, there it was — louse of the variegated cavy or guinea pig. Done. It’s a slim handsome insect, elegant and refined. Need I say more. And I quite like guinea pigs, even though I am allergic to them. I appreciate the historical importance of a biological test animal. You can eat them too.

Is Scratching Catching?

One of the perks of having a book published is that you get to go to the annual author party. Which is how the Bugman and I found ourselves one warm Indian summer evening on a Bloomsbury square beside a marquee amidst a very well dressed crowd trying not to peer too obviously at the identifying badges that everyone wore. Our badges each pronounced ‘author’ next to our names so the Bugman struck up a conversation with a tallish, likeable chap who was instantly fascinated (no, really) by the Bugman’s explanation that we had written an insect book.

“Oh, not that lovely big one on butterflies?” the man exclaimed and we had to shake our heads ruefully and reply that, er.. no, our insect book was in fact practically the complete opposite of the one he’d described.

“Ah,” he continued with a twinkle, “then it must be The Little Book of Nits!” We both nodded shyly, expecting the conversation to end swiftly. On the contrary, our new acquaintance glittered with enthusiasm – according to his badge he worked in sales and at their recent conference when the new titles were presented he reported that a noisy ripple of interest greeted the announcement that the Little Book of Nits would be published. This gratifying excitement was then followed by an involuntary itch that went round the room like a Mexican wave and everybody found they needed to have a little scratch.

In the book trade, word of mouth is supposed to be the best kind of marketing, but a communal itch that needs scratching? Now, you can’t ask for more than that!