There can be absolutely no doubt that author and researcher Erica McAlister finds flies fascinating. The enthusiasm and joy with which she discusses her Diptera subjects is infectious; although readers might not end up truly loving flies, as McAlister does, they will certainly come away with appreciation for the evolutionary wonder of this ubiquitous group of insects. McAlister’s previous book, The Secret Life of Flies, examined fly behavior. This companion volume, The Inside Out of Flies, examines fly anatomical adaptations. The first chapter describes “pre-adulthood” (development of flies, from egg through adulthood); the following eight chapters focus on adult anatomy, working their way from the head (with separate chapters on the antennae and the mouthparts) to the end of the abdomen (the terminalia). In each chapter the anatomical aspects and evolutionary adaptations shown in each body part are carefully presented with many unique examples. The book itself is physically lovely: great attention has been paid to layout, and visuals are clear and informative.
Open this book to any page, and you will find something astounding about flies. Flies being flies, this could be somewhat revolting (maggot extra-oral digestion and tissue debridement) or amazing (“mag-bot” robots that mimic maggot motion to deliver pharmaceuticals to specifically targeted locations in the body). Did you know that some flies don’t even have functional mouthparts as adults? Or that flies have sensory hairs that literally “taste” bitter and sweet molecules in the atmosphere? Or that some female flies have eversible sacs (McAlister describes them as “resembling car air bags”) that emit pheromones and make the female’s body look bigger to entice males to mate? The almost unending examples are fascinating, though they are in a way the source of the book’s biggest fault. Although McAlister undoubtedly felt she omitted many examples important to dipterists (such as the global attendees at “fly school” described in the end chapter), the more general student of biology would have benefitted from a more selective presentation. Example after example with scientific names, classifications, and adaptations lead at times to reader fatigue. Overall, however, this is a wonderful volume, of potential interest and use to a wide variety of readers interested in biology, entomology, behavior, and evolution.