Friday 5: Great Insect Books

I am a huge reader.  I read everything from sci-fi to classic Brit lit to non-fiction science books and everything in between.  I have a massive collection of books, but if a book is good enough to claim a space in one of my 8 large bookcases, it’s likely there for life.  This also means that every time I move (which has been much more often than I expected since I moved to AZ), I lug around at least 30-40 heavy boxes of books.  As you might expect, my friends love helping me move.  :)

Today I thought I’d highlight a few gems in my collection of insect books.  Narrowing it down to 5 is nearly impossible – I have so many!  I narrowed my choices to books that will be of broad interest to non-entomologists as well as entomologists, but even that was hard.  So, I mentally lumped books into categories and chose my favorite in five categories:

In the category “Old Books,” the winner is Entomology for Beginners: For the Use of Young folks, Fruit-Growers, Farmers, and Gardeners by A. S. Packard

Entomology for Beginners coverI have a thing for old science books.  There’s something so elegant about the lyrical way early biologists described the natural world.  It is so poetic!  So I own a lot of old biology books.  I have had my copy of Entomology for Beginners since I started college as an undergrad.  It was well loved by at least 6 different people before me (their names are written on the inside front cover) and it is even better loved now!  My 3rd edition was published in 1899, so it is over 100 years old.  I love this book largely for its gorgeous engravings of insects, engravings that have become classics of entomological illustration.  The information is, of course, very outdated and a lot has changed in 111 years, but it’s also very entertaining to read what people thought about insects in 1899.  I just discovered that this book has been scanned and re-released by several different groups, so you can actually buy a new copy of this book on Amazon (link above), or an old used copy like mine pops up from time to time.  I think it’s worth at least a look.

In the category “Insect Photography/Art,” the winner is Night Visions: The Secret Designs of Moths by Joseph Scheer

Night Visions coverIf you’ve never taken a good, close look at a moth, you’re probably missing out!  Those often drab grey or brown fluffy insects are actually quite beautiful.  If you don’t believe me, Joseph Scheer’s stunning book will help change your mind.  Scheer pioneered a means of scanning moths at very high resolution using a high end flatbed scanner.  In the process, he produced some truly inspired moth images.  And these things are really high resolution!  I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of Scheer’s images at an art museum a few years ago and they looked as fantastic as 3 feet tall museum pieces as they do in the book.  My dog went through a horrifying book eating phase for a while when I first got him and one of the 50 or so casualties was my copy of Night Visions.  I bought another one immediately because I just couldn’t live with a copy that was imperfect.  The images inside are too great to be marred by a lack of cover and mangled spine.

In the category “Aquatic Insects,” the winner is A Dazzle of Dragonflies by Forrest L. Mitchell and James L. Lasswell

Dazzle of Dragonflies coverIn some ways, this book is similar to Night Visions in that it is full of images of scanned insects.  However, this book is so much more than an art book!  More than any other book, this one expresses my fascination for/love of dragonflies and it’s clear that the authors both love their subject.  The book is gorgeous and very well illustrated with crisply captured dragonfly images, but it’s also got great text.  This book brings together a wide variety of information about dragonflies, from their life histories to “oding” to photographing dragonflies to building water gardens to attract dragonflies to your yard.  The chapter on dragonfly cultural entomology is fantastic!  And, the information in this book is scientific, yet wholly accessible to non-scientists.  It’s the perfect book for someone who wants to know more about dragonflies, but doesn’t want to read a field guide or the dragonfly behavior bible.  I love this book, though I did not replace this one when the dogs nibbled on one end of the spine.  Sigh…

In the category “Insect Non-Fiction,” the winner is The Dangerous World of Butterflies by Peter Laufer

Dangerous Lives of Butterflies coverMy husband bought this book for me for my birthday last year and I started reading it the same day.  I barely put it down until I finished!  The book is essentially a series of stories about people who interact with butterflies.  It begins with a tale of a butterfly farm in Nicaragua and ends with the inspiring story of the captive rearing program for a highly endangered butterfly from the Bay Area of California.  There are stories about butterfly smugglers, conservationists attempting to save the monarch overwintering grounds, and people who raise butterflies to be released at weddings.  I have long thought that butterflies are completely over-hyped and I consider them terribly wimpy insects, but the book was fascinating and made butterflies seem so much more interesting.  I highly recommend this one!

In the category “Non-insect Arthropods,” the winner is The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

Secret Life of Lobsters coverOkay, okay.  I made this category up specifically so I could put this book on my list because it is one of my all-time favorite books.  I love lobsters (live, not to eat – they’re are on my list of animals I don’t eat), so I snatched the book up when I found it on the bargain rack of a local bookstore.  I was hooked by the second page!  Like the butterfly book, this is a sort of story book, a deftly crafted tale of lobsters and the people who love them.  However, it focuses on two main stories that are intricately linked and meld together into one narrative: lobstermen and lobster researchers.  The narrative discusses what scientists have learned about lobsters – their mating practices, their movements, their distributions and abundances – and how Maine’s lobstermen have contributed to our understanding of these remarkable animals.  It also discusses how lobstermen have self-regulated themselves for the last 100 years, setting up socially and culturally enforced rules to protect both the lobsters and the livelihoods of those that hunt them.  This book is highly engaging and tells the story of the lobsters in such a way that you almost forget you’re reading non-fiction.  Seriously, I couldn’t put it down.  I bought several copies and gave them out to aquatic biologist friends.  I’ll read it several more times over my lifetime.  It’s that good!

Hope you enjoyed my list this week!  If you have your own favorite insect or arthropod book, I’d love to hear what they are.  Leave a comment below!

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8 thoughts on “Friday 5: Great Insect Books

    • Crustaceans are the next thing over from insects anyway, so they might as well be bugs! And I call them bugs when people tell me how delicious they are. :)

  1. Wasp Farm, Life on a Little Known Planet, and The pleasures of entomology : portraits of insects and the people who study them, all by Howard Ensign Evans are some of my favorite books on insects, but I’m sure you already have read them. If not, you have a treat ahead of you. Another one that you probably have is For Love of Insects, by Thomas Eisner. It summarizes his many years of research with all sorts of arthropods and their chemical defenses/attractants. Bumblebee Economics is also a wonderful read. It’s by Bernd Heinrich, who has written many other fascinating books, but focusing on birds, forests, running and his family. One of the books about insects that I first read was: The Insect world of J. Henri Fabre. With introd. and interpretive comments by Edwin Way Teale. Fabre was way ahead of his time in his careful observations of insect behavior. This is an English translation of his very anthropomorphic writing, but it is a pleasure to read and you’ll be amazed at his creativity and experiments that reveal how and why insects do what they do.
    Keep reading, writing your blog, and collecting those books!!

    • I own every one of the books you mentioned! I have not, however, gotten around to reading Fabre or Life on a Little Known Planet. They’re in a very, very large pile of books I still have left to read and I am looking forward to reading them both, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I love For Love of Insects though! Ultimately, it was nearly impossible to narrow my list of books down to just 5. That’s why I lumped them into catergories. It would have been completely overwhelming otherwise!

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