Naturalists Handbook Series Review

Naturalists’ Handbook Series

Naturalists’ Handbooks are published by Richmond Publishing. You can learn more about the Naturalists Handbook series below.

Naturalist Series Review

The Naturalists’ Handbook Series is an excellent and extremely valuable series of books aimed at helping amateur naturalists in, and out of, schools to contribute productively to our research into and understanding of the world around us. They are specifically aimed at British users and though the general ecological information would be of some use to readers all across the world their regional taxonomic content will limit their real usefulness to Britain. I think it useful to quote from the editor’s preface to volume one.

“Sixth formers and others without a university training in biology may have the opportunity and inclination to study local natural history but lack the knowledge to do so in a confident and productive way. The books in this series offer them the information and ideas needed to plan an investigation, and the practical guidance needed to carry it out. They draw attention to regions on the frontiers of current knowledge where amateur studies have much to offer”.

This then is the originators aims, and it is pleasant to say that in most cases they have achieved their aims (taking into consideration the passage of time which changes not only what is known ecologically but also our understanding of taxonomic relationships).Naturalists Handbook Series Review Grasshopper There are 29 books currently in the series with more to come and generally speaking they are all very strong on the ecology, and most are good on identification as well. Not all of them are concerned with insects and I will only be reviewing those that are concerned with insects to start with. They are all extremely useful for schools and even undergraduates, in fact I still use many of them myself. Some of them I have been using for years and my greater familiarity with these will show in the reviews, though I will update the reviews if I find anything wrong. A deficit afflicting all the volumes I have seen so far, the exception being the new edition of Vol. 6 Bumblebees, is distribution maps, this is something I think could be quite usefully added to future volumes. Because the whole series is highly recommendable, and because I have just said that here, most of the reviews will be shorter than if I was only reviewing one or two of them.

No. 8 Ground Beetles by T.G. Forsythe

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 263 9
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 264 7
Published = 2000
Review written = 28/May/2000
96 pages

Ground beetles are one of the first groups of insects that people start to notice when they are developing an interest in natural history, and because they are relatively easy to keep and raise in captivity they make excellent subjects for secondary school projects. There are however over 350+ named species of ground beetle in the UK which gives plenty of scope for study.

The first edition of this work was published in 1986 and is currently dated by the addition of 9 new species to the British List. Also the first edition was mildly annoying in that the key did not cover all the British species. This, the only fault I could find with the first edition, has been rectified excellently in this volume, however, anyone wishing to seriously publish their work should still check their identifications in the keys of Lindroth (1974). This edition is 22 pages longer than its predecessor which as far as I can see is mostly due to the new keys. Also the references section has been updated as has the list of new addresses, apart from these small changes everything I said about the first edition still applies to this the second.

The colour plates by Sophie Allington are excellent and add considerably to the quality of the book. Contains useful sections on finding ground beetles, and carabid natural history (which includes feeding, foraging, hibernation and breeding), as well as a checklist.

No.1 Insects on Nettles by B.N.K.Davis

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 283 3
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 284 1
Published = 1991
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
pages 68

Nettles occur everywhere, and with their associated fauna must be one of the most readily available ecological resources for teachers anywhere , I suspect there is no school in Europe that could not make good use of this book. Because the keys are designed to allow you to separate out a variety insects into their various orders before attempting to identify them to species this book is of particular use to teachers in primary and early secondary schools. The keys are easy to use though they make no claim to identify the full range of insects likely to be found on nettles and are there more to point out the commoner inhabitants. The key illustrations are clear but the colour plates are not up to the standard of some of the later works. Apart from the various keys this contains useful sections on feeding habits, predators and scavengers, parasites, life cycles, collecting insects, keeping them alive, making set specimens, drawing and dissecting and writing up your results.

No.2 Grasshoppers by Valerie K. Brown

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 277 9
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 278 7
Published = 1990
Review written = 11/Jan/1998
68 pages

Britain has a rather impoverished orthopteran fauna, however because the orthoptera are relatively large, and therefore noticeable, they are relatively well known. Also in many species the males sing, which brings them more readily to human attention. This work deals with the Acrididae and the Tettigonidae only, why the few remaining members of the British Orthoptera were not included is not explained.

The work is very well written even by the high standards of this series. The section on ‘ Relevant Techniques ‘ is particularly worthy of note, and will greatly increase the value of this work to schools. The keys are simple, straight forward, well illustrated and easy to use. Having said that I should add that I was not impressed with the plates, though I appreciate the value of giving a wide variety of artists a chance to display there work, as this series does.
Contains sections on:- Life history and reproductive strategies; Adaptations and habits, Identification; Distribution and habitat preference; Relevant techniques; References and further reading.
All in all a very useful little book.

No.3 Solitary Wasps

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 295 7
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 296 5
Published = 1995
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
68 pages

This is one on my favorites in this series, perhaps reflecting my love for the aculeates and their mimics. The text is well written and easily balanced introduction to the wondrous world that solitary wasps represent. The keys are generally reliable but lack the facies images that make Lomholdts’ keys so pleasant to use, and it would be as well to keep voucher specimens of any less of the common or tricky to identify species you wish to record as some recorders may not be happy with records which are based solely on this work. However Lomholdt costs £55.00 which is 6X more expensive than this so you can not really complain. In counterpoint to this the plates by Anthony J. Hopkins are excellent, clear and of considerable use when checking where you have ended up by following the keys. Contains both an alphabetic and systematic checklist, as well as a short but useful bibliography.

No.4 Insects and Thistles

Insects and Thistles by Margaret Redfern

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 297 3
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 298 1
Published = 1995
Review written = 28/Dec/1997
70 pages

Thistles are a common site in the British/European countryside and also in many suburban habitats particularly on waste ground areas, they are also easy to cultivate. They are also familiar to many Americans where several European species have become pests. This work deal primarily with Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) and Spear Thistle (C. vulgare) the 2 commonest and most widespread species in the UK. This work, like its companion volumes Vols. 1, 18 and 26 (26 is due to be released in 1998) deals with the ecological community associated with a particular group of plants. This mean that this work stresses plant-herbivore-predator-parasitoid-hyperparasitoid relationships making it particularly useful in the modern school system and perhaps typifying what this series is all about. Because of their ubiquity, thistles, like nettles are easy to find and lend themselves readily to small scale amateur investigations.

Like all the works I have reviewed in this series so far this book is well written and easy to use, also like all the other volumes in this series its value increases when it is used in conjunction with others in the series, most of which are complementary.

No. 5 Hoverflies

Hoverflies by Francis Gilbert

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 255 8
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 256 6
Published = 1993
Review written = 28/Dec/1997
67 pages

This is in some ways an excellent example of what this series is all about. It contains some keys to the commonest British species but is not, and does not claim to be a complete identification guide and those who wish to be sure of identifying the rarer species should consult “British Hoverflies” by Stubbs and Falk. However for the amateur who is happy to investigate the biology of the commoner species which occur in his garden this book will do very well. Hoverflies are a wonderful and fascinating group of insects which can b found anywhere during Summer and Most of Spring and Autumn. They are colourful, big enough to be easily seen and to work with, and perhaps most pleasantly they do not bite or sting and are therefore suitable for work with children. This book by Francis Gilbert supplies a well written and fascinating introduction to their biology opening up many avenues for constructive thought and research. The plates by Steven Falk are excellent and cover more species than are normally illustrated in these volumes making identification of the more common species likely to be found in school and at home, with the help of Francis’ keys, relatively easy.
Highly Recommended, particularly in conjunction with volume 11 Aphid Predators.

No. 6 Bumblebees by O.E. Prys-Jones and Sarah Corbet

ISBN = 0-8050-4218-0
Published = 1996
Review written = 18/Jan/1997

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 257 4
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 258 2
Published = 199?
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
86 pages

This was the first of this series that I ever bought, and has been well used. Bumblebees are one of the most popular groups of insects outside of the lepidoptera and this book brings them within reach of everybody. Because of the small number of species in Britain it has been possible for the authors to make this a very complete introduction to biology of bumblebees. The plates by Anthony J. Hopkins are up to his usual high quality and the keys are relatively easy to use. Includes sections on ecology of true bumblebees, cuckoo bumblebees, foraging behaviour, distribution and recognition, and establishing captive nests, as well as the usual bibliography.
Highly Recommended

No.7 Dragonflies by Peter Miller

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 299 X
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 300 7
Published = 1995
Review written = 25/Jan/1998
pages 118
4 colour plates depicting 23 species

This is another fine example of the high quality books which give this series such a good name. Dragonflies are beautiful and relatively large insects, and though we only have a handful of species in the UK, they are relatively common and popular, as they are throughout the rest of the world. Over 70 pages of accurate, up-to-date and fascinating information on Dragons and Damsels makes this book excellent value for money. I was particularly pleased to see the competent and lucid sections on ‘sperm competition and ‘territoriality’. The former is an important biological concept to which the study of Dragonflies has contributed much, perhaps more than the study of any other insect group. Contains good keys to both adults and larvae of the British species.

This volume, unlike many of its companions in this series contains many references to non-British and non-European species making it more useful to members of English speaking countries around the world.

Contains sections on:- Eggs and larvae; Adult life; Flight; Vision; Reproductive biology; Guarding and egg-laying; Dragonfly conservation and recording; Some methods for studying dragonflies; Some useful addresses; References and further reading; Appendix 1. Annotated checklist of British species; Appendix2. Times of appearance of adult British dragonflies.
Highly Recommended

No. 8 Common Ground Beetles by T.G. Forsythe

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 263 9
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 264 7
Published = 1987
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
74 pages

Ground beetles are one of the first groups of insects that people start to notice when they are developing an interest in natural history, and because they are relatively easy to keep and raise in captivity they make excellent subjects for secondary school projects. There are however over 340+ named species of ground beetle in the UK and the author makes no pretence that his keys are complete and wisely admonishes anyone wishing to seriously publish work to check their identifications in the keys of Lindroth (1974). However for use in schools the keys in this book should be adequate to identify the commoner species. The colour plates by Sophie Allington are excellent however and add considerably to the quality of the book. Contains useful sections on finding ground beetles, and natural history (which includes feeding, foraging, hibernation and breeding), as well as a checklist, 4.5 page bibliography and a list of useful addresses.

No. 10 Ladybirds by M.Majerus and P. Kearns

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 267 1
Price = (pbk) £8.95 UK or $14.95 USA
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 268 X
Price = (hbk) £14.95 UK or $24.95 USA
Published = 1989
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
103 pages

Ladybirds are universally loved and are one of the groups of insects that I am most regularly asked questions about, most of what they want to know is within the covers of this small book. This is perhaps the best of the series that I have seen so far, the keys are clear and easy to use, and because it deals with a relatively small group, complete. The colour plates by Sophie Allington as in No. 8 are of very high quality. There are sections on; life history. ladybirds with other organisms, lady birds in their environment, variation in ladybirds, ladybird distribution, study techniques and materials and further reading as well as the keys. Michael’s obvious love for his subject shines through clearly in all that he has written, and this is by far the best book on ladybirds for its price around.

No. 11 Aphid Predators by Graham E. Rotheray

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 269 8
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 270 1
Published = 1989
Review written = 28/Dec/1997
77 pages

Though at first glance this may seem a strange title for a book in this series it is actually an excellent example of what this series is all about.
There are over 500 species of aphids in the UK alone, and during the warmer months of the year no-one need have any difficulty finding some, they are generally plentiful and easy to collect throughout Summer making them ideal subjects for classroom or amateur experiments in animal ecology. Amongst many other fascinating facts this book will tell you how to keep them alive indoors. This book is filled with useful an interesting information on the biology of aphids and those who feed on them. It also doubles as an excellent introduction to interactive ecology giving good examples of the differences between predators, parasitoids and hyperparasitoids. It contains keys and identification guides to, not only the more frequently encountered aphids, but also to the predators and parasitoids that use them.

This book inter-relates well with with several other volumes in this series, particularly Vol. 1 Insects on Nettles, Vol. 4 Insects and Thistles, Vol. 5 Hoverflies and Vol. 10 Ladybirds. Like all the works I have reviewed in this series so far this book is well written and easy to use.

No. 13 Mayflies by J. Harker

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 273 6
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 274 4
Published = 1989
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
56 pages

Mayflies are as a group well known to fishermen, however it is unfortunate that to the general public the adults are easily confused with stoneflies, caddisflies, lacewings and other neuropterans while the nymphal forms remain unknown altogether. They are however a fascinating group, well worth the effort of getting to know. With Janet Harkers excellent book this effort will not be too great and should be very rewarding. The keys are well constructed and clearly illustrated, I have had no problems with them so far. The colour plates are relatively clear and serve well to show off the beauty of Mayflies, but identification should always be made through the keys. As with others in this series the ecology section is quite strong which combined with the keys makes this a particularly useful book for schools which are likely to encounter many Mayfly nymphs during ‘Pond-Dipping’ activities.

No.14 Mosquitos by Keith R. Snow

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 275 2
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 276 0
Published = 1990
Review written = 25/Jan/1998
pages 66
4 colour plates depicting 8 species

Everybody has heard of mosquitos, and most people have experienced them to some extent, however few people know anything about them. Mosquitos do much more than bite people and transmit diseases like Malaria. They are an ecologically important aspect of many habitats, especially those consisting of small discrete bodies of fresh water. Unfortunately this work does not even mention, let-alone stress, the ecological value of mosquitos. Though technically accurate, and containing much useful information, this work lacks the love/enthusiasm that is such a part of so many of the volumes in this series that you almost take it for granted. Apart from this, arguably minor point, the book is a competent introduction to the morphology and life history strategies of British mosquitos.

The key to adults require a little getting used to, and it is as well to have several specimens of both sexes before seeking a serious species level ID. The inclusion of keys to eggs, larvae and pupae is however impressive. It is also a reflection of the fact that we only have 32 species in the UK, though the keys contains a few more ‘possibles’, something which makes the much maligned mosquito an ideally sized group for this series. Hopefully this book will facilitate an increased interest in mosquitos in the UK.

No.15 Insects Plants and Microclimate by D.M. Unwin and Sarah A. Corbet

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 279 5
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 280 9
Published = 1991
Review written = 4th/Jan/1998
68 pages

Insects live in a different world to us, and the study of how small scale changes in the environment effect insects and how they respond to these changes is an important part of understanding their ecology. Insects can drown in a rain drop, be cooked by a sun fleck and get blown way of course by small breezes, the step down into the micro-world of insects is often difficult for the human mind to take but this book by Unwin and Corbet will certainly help.

Hopefully this book will introduce you to some new ideas, some new techniques, and a new way of looking at the insect world. Reading it will improve your insight into the problems insects have to solve in their day to day activities, and as such it serves as a good companion volume to all the others in this series. This book covers a large field and presents a lot of information in an easily accessible form. The fact that electronic measuring equipment such as the “Tiny-Talk” recorders are now even better and cheaper than they were when this book was written, enhances rather than detracts from its usefulnes.

Includes the following chapter headings: Weather and microclimate; The climatic environment near the ground; Plants and microclimate; Insects and microclimate, Insect identification; Measuring microclimate; Humidity calculation and tables; Presenting microclimate data; Hardware; Some useful addresses; Further reading.

This book is well written, if slightly more technical in parts than most of the works in this series, it contains 4 colour plates but no keys. Highly Recommended.

No. 16 Weevils by M. G. Morris

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 281 7
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 282 5
Published = 1991
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
76 pages

Weevils, with over 40 000 different species are the largest family group known of any life form. We have relatively few in the UK, about 570. Still this is far to many for a book of this size to attempt to key them all out. In fact there is no modern key to all the British Weevils, only one on the the Orthocerous forms by M.G.Morris. Therefore Morris has supplied a key to families and subfamilies, and then several keys to Weevils associated with various plants i.e. Beech, Hawthorn, Hazel, Cabbages, Docks, Purple loosestrife, Sea lavender, and Stored grain products. 

To the untrained eye all weevils look very similar and the keys are not necessarily easy to use if you are an absolute beginner, however the whole book is very user friendly. It includes an interesting list of ecological things we don’t know about Weevils, and a bibliography which will allow you to track down further literature if you want to go further than this book allows. 

The keys take up less room than in many other volumes in this series meaning that the ecology section is particularly good in this volume, also the illustrations are up to the usual high quality that exemplifies this series.

No. 18 Insects on Cabbages and Oilseed Rape by William D. J. Kirk

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 287 6
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 288 4
Published = 1992
Review written = 1/Jan/1998
66 pages

Over the past decade ‘Oilseed Rape’ has become a much more familiar sight across the British countryside, and it is therefore not surprising that a book on the insect ecology of this increasingly popular crop has been produced. Like its sister volumes; 1. Insects on Nettles and 4. Insects and Thistles, this book gives an excellent introduction to the inter-relatedness of the ecological community that can be associated with a small group of plant species.

With sections on; Brassicas as a place to live, The herbivores, The flower and its visitors, Identification (including 5 different keys), Techniques, Useful addresses and Further reading this book is the perfect place to start a study of the ecological community associated with oilseed rape. Oilseed rape grows readily from seed and so it is not difficult to produce your own mini-fields of it to facilitate study.

Like all the works I have read in this series this book is well written and easily read, I suspect that it will be of interest to anyone who has more than a passing interest in the countryside.

No. 23 Blowflies by Z. Erzinçlioglu

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 303 1
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 304 X
Published = 1996
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
71 pages

Blowflies, family Calliphoridae, contain not only those flies which are commonly known by the name ‘Blowfly’ (so named because meat was said to have ‘blown’ once it had maggots in it) but many others which have equally fascinating life cycles. Many of these are discussed in the excellent text which contains not only the typical discussions on reproduction, growth, and life history traits but interesting sections on; plant associations, distribution and habitat preference, activity patterns, dispersal and migration, competition in carrion, fossil blowflies, blowflies in war, forensic applications, blowflies in archeology and blowflies in history. 

There is also a useful section on rearing and studying blowflies including a list of small journal where results can be published, unfortunately this omits perhaps the most suitable publication, namely the Dipterists Digest (published by the Dipterists Forum). The keys are good though some of the characters may seem difficult to see until you are used to finding them, this is the problem associated with the flies rather than an lack of thought on the authors behalf. 

They do not allow for the identification of all British blowflies, as the females of Bellardia and Lucilia are not not included and the six species of British Pollenia have also been left out. Considering that the keys take up a relatively small part of this volume it is difficult to conjecture why this is. The bibliography is particularly good and should allow for any further reading you could want to do.

No. 24 Ants by G.J.Skinner and G.W. Allen

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 305 8
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 306 6
Published = 1996
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
83 pages

Ants are one of those groups of insects that everybody recognizes instantly, but which very few people know much about. This book will be a good start into the long journey of fascination that inevitable grips everyone who looks seriously at the world of ants. General speaking it is very good with a competent introduction to the biology of ants, and a set of keys which will make identifying the commoner species fairly easy, particularly useful for school field trips will be the ‘Quick check field Key’ to common species which will be easily photocopied onto a single A4 sheet of paper. There are a couple of errors in it, Leptothorax tuberum is now Leptothorax tuberointerruptus, and despite the authors comments is not that rare along the Southwest coast of England. 

Further the authors seem to have developed a taste for excessive use of terminology, which I suspect they have adopted straight from Hölldobler and Wilson, this is exemplified by their supplying 5 different terms to describe mymecophilous arthropods while completely neglecting to mention Platyarthrus hoffmanseggii a relatively common small white mymecophilous wood louse in both Myrmica and some Lasius nests (at least in the Southwest). 

To me this, given the audience this book is aimed at, is particularly unhelpful. Finally they have adopted H and W’s abuse of the term ‘inquiline’ which according to my previous experience and Henderson’s ‘Dictionary of Scientific Terms is an animal that shares the home of another larger animal, by which definition most mymecophilous arthropods are a special group of inquilines associated with ants. H and W have distorted the meaning of the word to make it synonymous with the term ‘brood parasite’ using it to distinguish between full and temporary brood parasitism. 

This then means they have to describe Formicoxenous nitidulus as a guest ant, instead of in the usual way of referring to it as an inquiline. Unfortunately given the extent of their readership it is likely that numerous innocent readers, particularly secondary school teachers and pupils, are now acquiring this erroneous usage of the term as an undisputed truth.

No. 25 Thrips by W. D. J. Kirk

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 307 4
Price = (pbk) £8.95 UK or $14.95 USA
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 308 2
Price = (hbk) £14.95 UK or $24.95 USA
Published = 1996
Review written = 28/Feb/1997
70 pages

Most people who are aware of Thrips know them only as little pests that infest greenhouses and commercial flower and cereal crops. And though there is no denying that some are serious pests in some circumstances, there is something inherently cheekily attractive about them when seen under a microscope, they also do their share of pollination duties.

Thrips are a larger group than many of those tackled in this series (159 UK species) and as such it is not expected that the keys will identify all specimens to species level and the author sensibly points users towards Mound et al (1976) RES key for those rarer species which do not key out beyond genera of family here. I was a little disappointed with the colour plates which seemed a bit washed out to me, however the key illustrations are clear enough.

The text is good and easy to read though not as extensive in its ecological coverage as some other volumes, however it draws well on examples from around the world. All in all like the rest of the series this book is good value for money.

No. 26 Insects on dock plants by David T. Salt and John B. Whittaker

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 309 0
Price = (pbk) £8.95 UK or $14.95 USA
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 310 4
Price = (hbk) £14.95 UK or $24.95 USA
Published = 1998
Review written = 2/Aug/1997
56 pages
Illustrations by Michael J. Roberts

Docks are another ubiquitous plant in the British countryside and it is not surprising to see a volume on them appear in this series. The book follows the general trend set by previous members of the series. The illustrations are better than some previous volumes but not the best. A number of the keys (iii and iv particularly), though they work, are poorly designed with much leap-frogging of the couplets, this is unnecessary and makes the key look awkward. Further to this I think illustrations of both fruiting perianths (rather than just 1) in couplet 7 key 1 would have been very useful, the fine teeth shown in Fig.1.5 could easily be considered ‘bristle-like’ to my mind (the term used in the other half of the couplet).

Apart from these few idiosyncrasies this is a pleasant addition to the series and should be much used in schools and colleges around the UK.

No. 27 Insects on cherry trees by Simon R. Leather and Kieth P. Bland

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 312 0
Price = (pbk) £8.95 UK or $14.95 USA
ISBN = (hbk) 0 85546 311 2
Price = (hbk) £14.95 UK or $24.95 USA
Published = 1999
Review written = 12/Aug/1999
82 pages
Illustrations by Miranda Gray

Cherry trees are an increasingly popular sight in the streets, parks and gardens of the UK. Their attractive demeanor and quick growth endear them to many. They are attractive to numerous insects and about 80 species have been recorded from cherry trees in the UK. This book serves as a fascinating introduction to this amazing array of insects. It allows for the identification of those insects which are dependant on Cherry trees for their existance, and for identification of different species of Cherries. It also provides a good over-view of the ecology of the trees and their fauna. Considering their easy accessibility this should prove to be an extremely popular volume with both amateur naturalists and secondary schools.

No. 29 Aphids on deciduous trees by Tony Dixon and Thomas Thieme.

ISBN = (pbk) 978 0 85546 314 4
Price = (pbk) £9.95 UK
Published = 2007
Review written = 15/April/2008
138 pages

Aphids are ubiquitous creatures in both temperate and mediterranean regions, I catch thousands in my malaise traps in my current study of the biodiversity of Lake Kerkini: Greece, and it is a problem that there are few if any good keys around. While this book does not really help me in my study, because I have little idea what plant species the specimens I catch were feeding on before they were caught, it will undoubtedly be of use for anyone wishing to learn more about the aphids in their local woods or school or backyard garden.
By focusing on just one group of aphids, those that are associated with deciduous trees, the authors have allowed themselves to include a little more detailed information than they could have if they had dealt with aphids as a whole. Also by linking their identification guide to particular tree species they have made their work much more accessible to amateurs and school children. In this I think they have made a wise decission.
The book starts with an excellent introduction to aphids, asking, and answering, the question – Why study aphids?- and indeed they are well worth studying and lend themselves well to school or private home study. The introduction continues with excellent sections on: Food; Symbionts; Host Specificity; Reproduction; Life Cycle and Dispersal. This is followed by short but well written chapters on:-Trees as a habitat; Natural enemies; Abundance, Sex, and Distribution and Global Warming preparing you well for chapter 8 which contains an introduction to identification and the identification aids.
For the most part I feel the keys will work excellently, my only query being that on page 81 couplet 12a where the siphunculi of one half a of the couplet are described as –slightly to markedly swollen, red- with a reference to an image that is markedly swollen, and the second 12b is –siphunculi swollen or cyclindrical, yellowish– with a reference to an image that is slightly swollen and could therefore, as the images are B/ W line drawings equally apply to 12a. I would have mentioned the colour first in both cases and delineated a bit more on the degree of overlap between the thin end of one half of the couplet and the fat end of the other.
Following the identification aids there is are 40 pages of Desriptions of genera and species. After this there is there is a chapter on Techniques and approaches to original work which is good and should prove useful except that I think an additional diagram or two illustrating the creation of the ‘clip cage’ would have been useful for people who are not used to manufacturing their own entomological equipment. This is the second of my three small quibbles with what is otherwise and very professional and well written and produced work. My third complaint is that nowhere in the book is the position of aphids within the greater scheme of insect classification mentioned, the words Heteroptera, Homoptera, Auchenorrhyncha and Sternorrhyncha etc. are all missing and, while I accept that some of the details are still under discussion, an additional paragraph or two explaining the the current state of our knowledge of insect classification, at least to the extent of putting the aphids into an order and sub-order would have been appreciated by most readers.
The book ends with a checklist of species mentioned in the book, a collection of useful addresses, that I sure will not overly please the owners of Alana Ecology and a small list of references and additional reading. All in all, considering that this book costs less that the entrance to most films at a British cinema, that it can be used in much of Europe as well as in the UK, and that it will do far more good for anybody who reads it than any film that comes out of Hollywood I would highly recommend buying it to all schools, amateur ecologists and parents in the UK and the rest of Europe.

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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