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We often see recommendations for summer reads, and although it isn't lightweight (hardcover at 328 pp), the new book  Amazing Arachnids by Jillian Cowles makes my list.

The American Southwest is full of interesting and unique arachnids. In this book, naturalist and clinical microbiologist Jillian Cowles has captured photographs over over 300 different kinds of arachnids from eleven orders found there, including some that have never been seen before. (The cover photo is by Bruce D. Taubert).

Of course we looked for ants first. They are not listed in the index, but there's a photograph of a tiny ant mimic spider in the genus Bellota on page 29. Cowles mentions that black widow spiders eat ants (page 200) and has a full page photograph of Euryopis scriptipes spider holding a harvester ant on page 201. On page 245 is a Peckhamia jumping spider that mimics ants and on page 253 there are three genera of ant mimic spiders, Tutelina, Sarinda, and Peckhamia again.

In addition to spiders, the book covers:

  • Scorpions
  • Psuedoscorpions
  • Vinegaroons
  • Short-tailed Whipscorpions
  • Tailless Whipscorpions
  • Microwhipscorpions
  • Harvestmen
  • Wind Spiders
  • Ticks and Mites

Cowles passion comes through in the text. She discusses anatomy and taxonomy for each group before delving into their unusual biological characteristics. For example, she suggests the ability of scorpions to fluoresce at night under UV light may "reflect" a way they protect themselves against the intense daytime solar radiation of the desert Southwest. Cool!

If you are as fond of or fascinated by all things eight legged as Cowles, then Amazing Arachnids is the book for you.

Hardcover: 328 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (June 12, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0691176582
ISBN-13: 978-0691176581

Know any children who are interested in spiders? Try one of these two adorable fiction picture books with spider characters.

Disclosures: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

We've heard a lot about the decline of managed honey bees lately, but not so much about honey bees living in the wild. That is until now. Dr. Thomas D. Seeley, Horace White professor of Biology at Cornell University and a leader in the field of honey bee biology, has written a new book Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting. This slim volume focuses on techniques for locating unmanaged honey bee colonies nesting in natural settings or even in urban areas.

Honey bee hunting is an ancient craft, used by people centuries ago to find honey bees to rob of their honey. Now it can be an entertaining and engaging hobby that requires little more than patience and a willingness to learn more about nature.

As Seeley explains in detail, finding a colony of wild honey bees involves capturing foraging bees using a specially-designed box and feeding the trapped honey bees scented sugar solution. Once released, the honey bees return to their nest and recruit more foragers. The bee hunter marks the returning bees and then follows to see where they are going.

Although beautifully written and engaging, I do have qualms about some of the contents of the book. First of all, the bees are fed in an old piece of honeycomb. The idea is that the comb entices the the honey bees to return to the food. This is a good technique in the hands of a careful scientist who realizes the need to use clean, healthy comb. I am concerned, however, that those who aren't as careful or knowledgeable may expose wild bees to diseases and parasites by using contaminated honeycomb from sick bee colonies.

The second concern I had was that not everyone reading the book will be as respectful of nature as Thomas Seeley. I learned the hard way that people wanting to know how to build leafcutter bee nests don't always have positive motives. I heard from gardeners who wanted to build the nests not to help the leafcutter bees, but to trap and destroy them. Honey bee hunting may result in similar harm if wild honey bee nests are destroyed for the honey or to capture healthy bees for managed hives. If you read the book, I would like the hear your thoughts about this.

On completely different note, if you are wondering whether to purchase an electronic version or the paper version, I have to say that the acid-free paper used to make this book is exceptional. I don't usually wax poetic about paper quality, but when I opened this book, I spent several minutes running my fingers over the pages. Enough said.

Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting is a must for anyone who wants to study wild honey bees. It will likely to appeal to beekeepers and scientists alike. Ideally it will be used to introduce some lucky youngsters to ways of observing our natural world, as well.

Related:

Visit Princeton University Press for a chapter to preview

ScienceFriday has a combined interview with Bernd Heinrich and Tom Seeley talking about their newest books (with short videos of using the bee box and marking bees)

Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 3, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0691170266
ISBN-13: 978-0691170268

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Disclosures:  This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Just in time for the summer firefly season comes a new popular science book, Silent Sparks:  The Wondrous World of Fireflies by Sara Lewis.

Most of us probably remember the wonder we experienced the first time we saw a firefly light up a summer night. Sara Lewis has captured that amazement in a bottle and poured it out onto the page.

Lewis's passion about her topic shines through from the first paragraph. Written for the lay reader and scientist alike, she summarizes what we know about fireflies from scientific research, but uses easy-to-understand language and defines all the terms, even including a glossary in the back matter. For example, she explains glow-worm fireflies are not worms or larvae at all, but are "plump and wingless females" that glow to attract males.

Most readers probably know fireflies are really beetles. Did you also know not all members of the firefly family (Lampyridae) light up? Lewis calls lampyrids that fly during the day and don't light up "dark fireflies." Without the ability to flash, dark fireflies attract mates via pheromones.

Other topics covered in the book include how fireflies produce the glowing light and how it has been exploited in tests for the presence of ATP. She explains what larval fireflies look like and discusses why those that glow do so for a different reason than the adults. She writes extensively about firefly reproduction, the topic of her own research. Lewis also includes practical firefly wrangling advice, ranging from how to get a firefly to sit still (give it a bit of apple) to how to encourage fireflies in your neighborhood (tone down the outdoor lighting). In the back is a key and a field guide to North American genera of fireflies.

Silent Sparks is an enlightening book about these fascinating insects. Reading it just might inspire you to go outside and spend a summer night contemplating the wonder of fireflies.

Related:

Firefly Watch Citizen Science

Want a glimpse into the flavor of the book? Check out the author's TED Talk, Sara Lewis: The loves and lies of fireflies

Princeton University Press also has a chapter to download and read.

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 26, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0691162689
ISBN-13: 978-0691162683

 

Illinois, USA.
(Public domain photograph of Photinus sp. firefly by Alex Wild)

Disclosures:  This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

How very far we have come in the last 100 years or so. If you haven't thought about that fact lately, compare Anatomy of the Honey Bee by R.E. Snodgrass (1910) (or Cornell University Press, 1985), - parts of which are available at Extension.org - with the ultra-modern Bee by Rose-Lynn Fisher, with a foreword by Verlyn Klinkenborg (2010, Princeton Architectural Press).

Featuring an outstanding series of scanning electron microscope photos, Bee is a visual treat. As you can see from Fisher's examples on her website, this is a mite's view of a honey bee where eye hairs look like forests and pollen grains resemble boulders. It is a world Snodgrass could only dream of glimpsing.

The text that accompanies the photographs is sparse, but to the point, which is direct contrast to the text-heavy Anatomy of the Honey Bee.

Anatomy of the Honey Bee, however, still remains relevant. It covers far more than just external structures, including development and internal anatomy. Carefully labelled cut-away and exploded views make identification of individual structures much easier.

In fact, these two books complement each other nicely. A serious student of honey bees will want to look at them both ways.

Bees_Collecting_Pollen_2004-08-14
Bees Collecting Pollen 2004-08-14" by Jon Sullivan - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Doesn't comparing these two books make you wonder what the next 100 years will bring?