Fascinating insects from around the world, including some newly discovered species.
From the Introduction
"Insect diversity, especially the almost untapped diversity of little-studied insects, should be seen as a rich ore... to be mined for generations to come."
Insects account for more than half of the approximately 1.7 million named species of all living things. The number of insect species yet undiscovered runs into many further millions.
Stephen Marshall has selected 500 of the most interesting insects from his travels to North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and beyond. Beautiful photographs show the insects in their natural habitats, and informative "factfiles" provide further details about the lives of these fascinating creatures. Some of the insects are new species, photographed here for the first time.
In addition to the entries for each of the species, there is an introduction on insect biology, classification and distribution, along with information on collecting and photographing insects.
Stephen A. Marshall is a professor of entomology at the University of Guelph, where he developed a major insect collection and carries out research on insect systematics and biodiversity. He has discovered hundreds of new species, several new genera and even two new subfamilies. He is also the author of Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity, a Booklist Editor's Choice Reference selection for 2006.
Insects are overwhelmingly diverse ... so diverse you might well think it impossible to routinely recognize bugs, beetles and flies the way we expect at least a passing familiarity with most of the birds, mammals and other vertebrates that cross our paths. That perception is grounded in reality, since most known species of living things -- about a million of the 1.7 million or so named species -- are insects, and the number of insect species as yet undiscovered and unnamed undoubtedly runs into further millions. It all seems hopelessly overwhelming -- but it shouldn't.
Insect diversity, especially the almost untapped diversity of little-studied insects such as tiny tropical flies, should be seen as a rich ore of insights to be mined for generations to come rather than as a barrier to the study of insect natural history today. In fact, most insects are relatively easy to identify to a meaningful level. The orders of insects -- the big groups such as flies, beetles, dragonflies and wasps -- are few and easy to learn, and most insect species (indeed, most animal species) belong to one of only four easily recognizable orders: flies (Diptera), wasps (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera) and moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera). These orders in turn are divided into families -- such as fireflies, mosquitoes and lady beetles -- most of which occur worldwide and are readily recognizable anywhere on the planet as variations on familiar themes. Many of the images in this book are from "exotic" places, but most should be easily recognizable as members of familiar families that probably occur in your own backyard, even though a disproportionate number of the species shown belong to rare families or families with unusually restricted distributions. Identification beyond the family level can be more difficult, and for many groups it has traditionally been the realm of specialists with microscopes, extensive libraries and reference collections. That is changing quickly; for more and more groups and more and more regions, identification right down to genus and species is getting easier, thanks largely to the digital revolution.
If you know the family to which an insect belongs, you can make generalizations about how it lives and what it eats, but more detailed information about insect distribution and behavior is often tied to generic (genus) or specific (species) names. In general, insects from temperate countries do have species names, and you can find the names for the most commonly encountered or distinctive species by using recent photographic guides. Identification of tropical insects is more daunting because of the huge numbers of undocumented species and a lack of published identification guides. Even in the tropics, however, many of the large and more conspicuous groups are remarkably well-known, and commonly encountered species are often easily identifiable. By way of illustration, most of the Bolivian insects illustrated in this book were photographed while I was instructing at a field course in primary rainforest near the Peruvian border. We were able to identify most of the more conspicuous insects encountered during that course through the use of a small photographic guide called Amazon Insects (Castner, 2000) illustrated with about 160 photographs from the Peruvian Amazon. More remarkably, during less than two weeks in the Bolivian rainforest we encountered most of the insect groups illustrated by Castner. This is not to say that either the photos in Castner's book or the 300 or so neotropical insects illustrated here represent a significant proportion of the millions of insect species thought to occur in the Amazonian rainforest, but it does suggest that they represent a meaningful proportion of the distinct kinds of larger insects an ecotourist might encounter during a visit to the South American rainforest. Similarly, the 80 or so species illustrated here from Costa Rica hardly scratch the surface of the insect diversity of that hyperdiverse Central American country, but if you go bugwatching in Costa Rica you will probably find significant similarity between the species shown and discussed here and the insects you spot along forest trails and margins.
The photographs in this book were identified partly by using reference collections, paper guides and websites, but many of the images were identifiable only with the help of specialists -- professional taxonomists who have identified hundreds of my specimens and images over the past several years. Some kinds of insects, as I have noted, are so poorly known that several of the images here are of undescribed (new) species photographed for the first time. A few of the photographs in this book are identified only to the family level because I could not identify them further, nor could I find a specialist able to identify them for me. An enormous amount of basic taxonomy remains to be completed before tropical insects will be covered by accessible identification tools like the wonderful guides now appearing for many groups of insects in temperate countries.
Although this book will undoubtedly find use as a tool for identifying naturalists' digital images from bugwatching excursions near and far, it was not assembled as an identification guide, and it provides neither comprehensive coverage for any region nor balanced coverage across the Insecta. Instead, it is a compilation of images that illustrate insect diversity, form and function around the world. Most of the examples are drawn from the neotropics -- Earth's major cauldron of diversity -- but a few are from other areas, including Australia, New Zealand, temperate South America, the Pacific, the Caribbean and North America.
When you look at a picture of an insect from an exotic place, try to think of where you have seen something similar. The odds are that the similarity you see reflects relationship, and that the insect belongs to a recognizable genus, a familiar family or at least a known order. At some point in the near or distant past that exotic insect shared a common ancestor with something you know. That bug from Cuba, for example, might have a very close relative in the American southeast, and those two species in turn might be very similar to a member of the same genus in northeastern North America. Related species are often similar because they resemble a common ancestor that was somehow subdivided -- perhaps by a barrier such as a mountain range or body of water -- into populations that evolved into different species. Professional taxonomists routinely plot phylogenies (like genealogies that show the relationship between species rather than individuals) of groups of related species against the geographic distribution of the species, and in doing so often show neat matches between the divisions in the phylogenetic trees and the divisions between areas or patches of habitat. Generally, the more distant the relationship between exotic insects and those you know, the longer they have been separated. Thus, some insects from Central America look much like exotic versions of North American species with which they share a relatively recent common history, while Australian or Chilean insects are, in contrast, often strikingly different from the insect groups familiar to most North Americans and Europeans.
One of the terms frequently used in this book is the term endemism (or endemic). An endemic species is a species that originated in an area and still occurs there; for example, the termites illustrated on page 54 are found on Robinson Crusoe Island (one of the Juan Fernandez Islands of Chile) and nowhere else, and are thus endemic to one island. Islands typically have very high endemism, as do other isolated areas such as mountaintops. Australia and Chile are examples of countries with very high endemism because of their isolation from other countries where related insects occur -- Australia because it is an ancient island, and Chile because it is bounded by water to the west and south, mountains to the east and desert to the north.
Collecting and Photographing Insects
Good images of insects down to mosquito size and even below can be obtained with most digital cameras, even the small pocket-sized cameras, with a bit of practice and a lot of patience. The trick to insect photography is to get to know your subjects and to approach them slowly; whether you then shoot them with a pocket "point-and-shoot" or a fancy digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera is unimportant. Excellent images for Web-posting or developing a digital insect collection can be obtained using pocket cameras, but the images for this book were taken with larger SLR cameras. A few were taken using film cameras equipped with macro lenses and flash units, but most were taken with the same lenses on newer digital SLR bodies.
Basic Bug Biology
Basic Bug Structure
The Ins and Outs (and -inis and -inaes) of Taxonomic Names
All species are grouped into genera, and species names are always given in combination with the generic name; for example, Acromyrmex versicolor is a Southwestern American species in the genus Acromyrmex. In a scientific work it is proper form to cite the author of a species following the first use of the species name, so if this were a scientific work the correct way to refer to the Desert Leafcutting Ant would be Acromyrmex versicolor (Pergande), since Pergande named this species (his name is in brackets to indicate that he originally described the species in a different genus). Since this is not really a scientific work, I have excluded author names to make the text a bit more readable. Generic and species names are always in italics, with the genus name (but never the species name) capitalized. Formal common names that refer to a single species are always capitalized, as are formal scientific names for families, tribes, subfamilies and orders. Thus we have the Desert Leafcutting Ant (Acromyrmex versicolor), a common species in the genus Acromyrmex in the tribe Attini (leafcutting ants) of the subfamily Myrmicinae (a group of stinging ants including fire ants and leafcutting ants) in the family Formicidae (all ants) in the order Hymenoptera.
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