Population geneticist J. B. S. Haldane wrote, in his book What Is Life?, that “The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature.” Some have rephrased this to “The creator has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”
The Book of Beetles celebrates this inordinate fondness in picturesque style. The images are focus-stacked, giving them extraordinary depth of field and great detail. There are (to date) about 387,000 species of beetles, or 25% of all known animal species. The book highlights 600 species, covering nearly all of the 211 families.
The first few chapters provide a general introduction to beetle biology and culture. Topics include morphology (distinguishing characteristics), classification, diversity, behavior, and conservation. A chapter is devoted to beetles in human society – for example, the use of sacred scarabs in ancient Egyptian civilizations.
The remainder of the book is devoted to the beetles themselves, grouped by the four suborders. Each page has two images: a life-sized picture and one that is magnified to show intricate detail. The only exceptions are the largest beetles, for which one image is sufficient. The family, subfamily, global distribution (map with colored areas), habitats, feeding habits, and notes are at the top of each page. The species and common names accompany the pictures, along with more details, including size ranges, close relatives, and distinguishing characteristics. There is a glossary, a classification guide, and an extensive resource list.
The Book of Beetles is a perfect gift for a budding entomologist and for anyone who appreciates these jewels of nature. It is easy to see why Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace were intrigued (some would say obsessed) with this fascinating order. The members of the Connecticut Entomological Society gave it two thumbs up, especially for the exquisite photographs and well-crafted references.