Book Rweview - Insects Revealed: Monsters or Marvels
Jacques de Tonnancour (translated from the French by
Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY
2002, 160 pp.
This extraordinarily beautiful book captures the monstrous beauty and diversity of insects in more than 150 pictures. In my day-to-day professional life as an evolutionary geneticist, I wrestle with mathematical equations and experiment with tiny, inglorious pests: flour beetles of the genus Tribolium. My passion for evolution and sense of wonderment about nature are sustained by walks through woods and swamps, seminars from field ecologists, visits to zoological and botanical parks and museums, and by books like this one. When teaching in the sterile efficiency of the large lecture hall, I try to pass on an appreciation for the stunning intricacies of nature and an understanding of the processes that shape them. With these photos, I am able to give my students a glimpse of both.
The book is organized into 13 chapters, ranging from “The Origins of Insects” to “Ecological Niches” to “Continental Drift and the Spread of Insects throughout the World” to “Insects’ Defense Strategies.” Each is a brief, but interesting introduction to some of the fundamental observations about insects. These introductions are useful to the novice entomologist and made more insightful by the comments of the author, who brings to ecology and evolutionary biology the perspective, optimism, and enthusiasm of the life-long collector. Because of my interest in the evolution of social behaviors, I welcomed the mention of the group or collective camouflage strategies of some gregarious caterpillars and the penultimate picture of the group-warning coloration of the nocturnal wasp, Apoica pallens. Both provide striking pictures of an “emergent group adaptation,” dependent upon coloration and coordinated behavior.
My quibbles about this book are few and minor. Although the author avoids scientific terminology for the most part, some of the interesting etymology of terms is not as usefully concentrated as it might be. For example, in the box distinguishing the butterflies (Rhopalocera) from the moths (Heterocera) (p. 54), we find the meaning of Heterocera (different types of antennae) but not of ropalon (club), which appears much later (p. 65). The text does not refer to the pictures, so we find that some behaviors of beetles in the family Dynastinae, those spectacular icons of sexual selection, are discussed without photos in one chapter, and the several pictures that appear in succeeding chapters are not referenced in the text.
I encourage everyone with a passion for nature to look at the world through the eyes and lens of Jacques de Tonnancour and to share your passion with others through this astonishing book—open the eyes of the next generation of biologists.
Department of Biology
1001 East 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
Vol. 50, No.4, Winter 2004