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Look what came out this week: Beetles of Eastern North Americaby Arthur V. Evans.

What's a myremecologist like me doing talking about a book about beetles? Ants and beetles actually get along well.

This book has something for everyone, in fact, hard-core coleopterist to lightly-interested amateur. If you are new to beetles, it is a fabulous place to start learning. There is an extensive introduction covering anatomy, natural history, where to look for beetles, how to observe and collect them, etc. On page 52, Evans discusses how to become involved in beetle research, encouraging students and amateur naturalists to participate.

The majority of the book, however, is devoted to the beetles themselves. It covers a "goliath" number of species: 1,406 with representatives from all 115 families of Coleoptera. Even better, each species description is accompanied by a full-color photograph. Most of the photographs are of live specimens, showing the shape and posture as no drawing can. The photographs are by a number of different photographers, but care was obviously taken that the images are of uniform composition and quality. This is not a lightweight field guide, but a desk top reference you will go back to again and again.

Let's do a test run and see if the book describes some beetles I've chosen at random.


Does the book have the thistle tortoise beetle, Cassida rubiginosa? Check, listed on page 435.


What about the lady beetle, Coleomegilla maculata? It is described on page 315.


How about the spotted asparagus beetle, Crioceris duodecimpunctata? On page 433 there is another Crioceris species, but not this one.

How about these?


The tumbling flower beetles were easy enough to key to family Mordellidae, even from this photograph. With only 17 species shown out of a possible 149, I couldn't identify them any further.

I'm pretty familiar with beetle families, so it probably took only a few minutes to find the first three beetles and less than 5 minutes to key out the last one to verify my guess. The photographs add a lot of information and make searching easy for the visually-oriented. With the Glossary, family classification list in the Appendix, and a full Index, the book is a breeze to use. The page numbers are even easy to read and find.

If you are interested in beetles, then this is a must have. Are you still using those two old volumes of Dillion and Dillion? Are still thinking of bark beetles as Scolytidae? Get up to date with Beetles of Eastern North America!

Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (June 8, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0691133042
ISBN-13: 978-0691133041

Disclosures:  This book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Have you ever lost your car in the mall parking lot? Our family avoids this problem by standing next to our parked car before we leave it and taking what we jokingly call "an orientation flight," named for the circling flight wasps take to assess local landmarks when they leave their nests (first described by Niko Tinbergen). We don't really fly, but we do turn around and note a prominent, stable landmarks in the area creating a visual map (although my husband inevitably laughs and says, "We're parked next to that blue car.")

After reading the new book, Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation (Science Essentials) by James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould, it becomes apparent that our way of navigating the parking lot is not that uncommon for humans. Our internal navigation capability is, however, fairly unsophisticated compared to the navigation systems many other animals use to achieve some pretty amazing feats. For example, the celebrity migrant monarch butterfly must fly a couple thousand miles to a mountain in Mexico without an electronic global positioning system. What it does use is an internal compass, clock and calendar to arrive at the right place at the right time.

In fact, a number of insects have sophisticated navigation systems, particularly those with nests that they need to return to with some accuracy, like the honey bees and ants. Researchers have shown that both honey bees and ants use the sun's position against an internal clock to help keep their bearings. In the absence of the sun, the insects can use patterns of polarized light. (Polarized light is the light that vibrates in a definite pattern in one direction, rather than in all directions.) Certain ants have also been shown to have a method of "step-counting," which allows them to assess distances based on stride length (more about that in an upcoming post). Finally, a number of insects, honey bees and monarch butterflies being prominent examples, use magnetic fields for navigating.

The authors review the scientific literature for vertebrates as well, from cahows that must navigate across vast expanses of water to a tiny island near Bermuda, to migrating sea turtles. The navigation abilities of homing pigeons are featured prominently, as well as some of the details of the controversies that arose around the study of vertebrate navigation. My favorite section is an examination of the possibility of magnetic map sense in humans, which clearly and humorously points out the difficulties of experimenting with human subjects.

After seven chapters about how animals navigate, the final chapter is a poignant look at why understanding how animals navigate is so critically important for conservation efforts. Well-intentioned efforts to reintroduce threatened and endangered migratory species have little likelihood of success if they do not take into account how the animals find their way.

James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould have written other popular science books that explore the potential cognitive abilities of animals, including The Animal Mind and Animal Architects. Nature's Compass expands this interest in a new direction (pun intended). If you are intrigued by animal behavior or need to brush up on your understanding of the field of animal navigation, this book will be a handy reference.

More books by the Goulds:

This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.