________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003

cover The Firefly Encyclopedia of Insects and Spiders.

Christopher O'Toole, ed.
Willowdale, ON: Firefly Books, 2002.
240 pp., cloth, $40.00.
ISBN 1-55297-612-2.

Subject Headings:

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***1/2 /4


Like mayflies, Odonata larvae are affected unfavorably by pollution. If quantities of nutrients in the water rise, in the process known as eutrophication, a consequent increase in algal growth may result in the disappearance of the higher plants upon which some larvae depend. By far the greatest threat to the survival of dragonflies tody, however, comes not so much from pollution as from the destruction of larval habitats by draining, infilling, or deforestation of the catchment area - impacts that commonly accompany intensive agriculture, forestry or urbanization.

More than simply a descriptive study of arthropods, The Firefly Encyclopedia of Insects and Spiders is an inclusive reference covering every living group within this class of animals. The work intends to heighten reader awareness of the vital relationship of arthropods to earth's ecosystems, particularly concerning our survival as a species. As the editor, a highly qualified British entomologist, researcher and author of natural history books and scientific papers points out, "It is ...humbling to ponder the thought that this planet can survive without man but not, in its present form, without the arthropods." The book was written by a list of 23 experts in the field of entomology, mainly from the UK.

internal art

     Following the introduction, the book divides the arthropod class into three groups. Six pages cover myriapods (eg. millipedes), 172 pages deal with insects (winged and wingless) and arachnids (8-legged) are detailed in 28 pages of text and illustrations. Within each section differentiated by coloured index tabs, orders are thoroughly examined under such subheadings as Form and Function, Diet, Camouflage, Social Behaviour, Predation and Defence, Conservation and Environment. In addition, a Factfile summarizes data on Identity, Distribution, Size (including a line drawing), Features, Life Cycle and Conservation Status. Distributed throughout the volume, several Special Features pages give an in-depth focus to selected aspects, eg. how butterfly wings retain brilliant tints and patterns. As well, three Photo Stories add visual appeal (eg. nest building materials used by wasps). A glossary of common and more difficult biological terms, a bibliography of reference sources and further reading and an extensive index complete the book.

     Illustrations include dramatic, full-colour, close-up photos, many of which were taken on location. Liberally used, they often comprise a full page or more. Precisely coloured drawings, black and white line drawings, charts and cross sections (eg. a termite mound) provide clear and complete support for the text.

     The size of the book (30 cm x 24 cm) and the small type size gives the text a dense appearance. The type used in the "Index" is even smaller, making the "page numbers in italic type [that] refer to picture captions" almost impossible to discern. However, the overall design is such that most large areas of type are broken up with illustrations. While the cover blurb describes the language as "clear, easily accessible," the fairly sophisticated reading level will require the skills of a capable high school student or adult reader.

     Being a newly published volume, the absence of any reference to West Nile Virus (the Special Feature page, "Fly-Borne Diseases," covers sleeping sickness and malaria) was surprising.

     However, as a reference source for anyone researching arthropods, this volume will provide a wealth of authoritative data and visual material.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian who lives in BC.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364