Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Ants and Butterflies - The Insects

It’s easy to think of insects as summertime pests, to be avoided or eradicated. But their presence is necessary to the planet: bees pollinate crops; ants turn over the soil and facilitate the life cycle of many plants; termites process dead plant matter; insects provide food for larger animals, and perform other vital functions.

According to David Grimaldi, author of Evolution of the Insects, the combined weight of all the insects on Earth outweighs all other animals -- whales, elephants and humans combined. The books in this section open a window into the fascinating world of the insects that are literally everywhere around us.

Recommended Books and DVDs on Ants and Butterflies - The Insects

Adventures Among Ants
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions
Mark W. Moffett

Entomologist Moffett, who has been described as the “Indiana Jones of entomology,” takes the reader along as he travels the world in search of ants. Ants are found on every continent except Antarctica and in virtually every climate. They are masters at exploiting an abundant niche -- the cracks, crevices, gaps, hollows, and other interstices of the environment. Studying ants has led him to India and the marauder ant, which has workers of three sizes, the largest being 500 times the size of the smallest; in Nigeria, he watches army ants on raids; weaver ants in Australia, Asia, and Africa use their larvae’s ability to spin silk to bind leaves together to make a nest. Copiously illustrated with photographs by the author. 2011, University of California Press

The AntsThe Ants
Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson

This beautifully written and accessible scientific study of one of the most diverse animal groups on earth won the Pulitizer Prize in 1991. From the Arctic to South Africa, making up nearly 15% of the entire terrestrial animal biomass, ants fascinate by their highly organized and complex social system. Their caste system, the division of labor, the origin of altruistic behavior, and their complex forms of chemical communication makes them the most interesting group of social organisms. Ants are the premier soil turners, channelers of energy and dominatrices of the insect fauna. 1990, Belknap Press

Bumblebee EcomonicsBumblebee Economics
Bernd Heinrich

Bumble-bee queens (which are not accompanied by a swarm of workers as are Honey-bees), must by themselves select and furnish a nest site, lay eggs and brood the resulting larva and then forage for pollen and nectar - whose sugar provides the energy needed for flying and nest warming. Heinrich brilliantly contrasts the foraging strategies of the bumble-bees with those of the plants which provide nectar and pollen and are in return cross-pollinated.
National Book Award Nominee
2004, Harvard University Press

Butterflies of the WorldButterflies of the World
Myriam Baran and Gilles Martin

One in every ten insects is a butterfly or moth. Butterflies are among the planet's most majestic creatures, their delicate forms sprinkled with brilliant color and rich with texture. Spectacular images of butterflies are complemented by a wealth of detail on the ecology, anatomy, behavior, and life cycle of lepidopterans. 2006, Harry N. Abrams

Chasing MonarchsChasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage
Robert Michael Pyle

Robert Pyle, a lepidopterist and nature writer, decided to personally investigate the migration of monarch butterflies by following them. His loosely concieved experiemnt took him over much of western North America, from a monarch breeding ground deep in the forests of British Columbia to the pine-clad mountainsides of central Mexico. His long journey is told in this book that mixes literate, often funny, travelogue with the natural history of Danaus plexippus and its relatives. This memoir serves both as a tribute to this majestic insect and as a thoughtful tour of the contemporary American West. 2001, Mariner Books

Cricket RadioCricket Radio: Tuning In the Night-Singing Insects
John Himmelman

On warm summer evenings, night-singing insects produce a whirring, chirping soundscape—a calming aural tapestry celebrated by poets and naturalists for millennia. But “cricket radio” is not broadcast for the easy-listening pleasure of humans. The nocturnal songs of insects are lures and warnings, full of risks and rewards for these tiny competitive performers. What moves crickets and katydids to sing, how they produce their distinctive sounds, how they hear the songs of others, and how they vary cadence, volume, and pitch to attract potential mates, warn off competitors, and evade predators is part of the engaging story Cricket Radio tells. 2011, Belknap Press

Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and SolosCrickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos
Vincent G. Dethier

Known for his ability to present complex scientific information clearly and entertainingly, Dethier introduces crickets, katydids, and grasshoppers (locusts), whose sounds, though familiar, are largely ignored by all but specialists. He takes us on an informative and entertaining summer's tour of insects in the Franklin, New Hampshire area and acquaints us with their habits and songs. Crickets and Katydids reminds us to attend to the world around us; to listen to its jubilant songs, breathe in the 'winey evanescence' of fallen apples and savor the caress of cool air flowing from the fringes of a shady hardwood forest.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1993
1992, Harvard University Press

In a Desert GardenIn a Desert Garden: Love and Death Among the Insects
John Alcock

Zoologist Alcock’s specialty is desert ecology in the American Southwest. In a Desert Garden focuses on the author's own front yard in Tempe, Arizona, and its insect inhabitants. Several years ago, Alcock tore out his typical suburban lawn to recreate a miniature native desert habitat, complete with representative local desert vegetation. Readers will gain insights into how science is practiced as the author's lively, often humorous observations of assorted beetles, bugs, wasps, bees, caterpillars, and butterflies are related to broad concepts of animal behavior, ecology, and survival.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1998
1999, University of Arizona Press

Evolution of the InsectsEvolution of the Insects
David Grimaldi

Put all of the insects on the Earth on a giant scale, and they will outweigh all other animals, whales and elephants included. Insects are ecologically essential. If all humans decided to leave for Mars, life on Earth would not change much. But if the insects disappeared, catastrophe would ensue: forests would collapse, rivers and oceans would be poisoned, and many other animals would starve. This book chronicles the amazing success story of insects with text, photos, line drawings, and diagrams. 2005, Cambridge University Press

The Forgotten PollinatorsThe Forgotten Pollinators
Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan

In The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan delve into the little-known and fascinating world of pollination, the insect-plant interaction which provides the world with one-third of its food source. Using colorful examples--including a moth that rappels down cliffs to pollinate a plant in Hawaii--they also explain how modern developments are threatening this essential process and emphasize that wildland protection is fundamental to sustaining agricultural productivity. 1997, Island Press

Insect LivesInsect Lives: Stories of Mystery and Romance from a Hidden World
Erich Hoyt and Ted Schultz, eds.

"Alien creatures have overrun planet Earth. They wear their skeletons on the outside, bite sideways, smell with antennae, taste with their feet, and breathe through holes in the sides of their bodies . . . they are the insects." This collection of essays provides good reading on the lives of these mysterious creatures, accompanied by many fascinating illustrations. 2002, Harvard University Press

Hugh Raffles

For as long as humans have existed, insects have been our constant companions. Yet we hardly know them, not even the ones we’re closest to: those that eat our food, share our beds, and live in our homes. Organizing his book alphabetically, Hugh Raffles weaves together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, taking the reader on a mesmerizing exploration of history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture. Insectopedia shows us how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations.
A New York times Notable Book
2011, Vintage

Life in the Undergrowth
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

Life in the Undergrowth
David Attenborough

This wonderful exploration of invertebrates exceeds the requirements for a great nature book through the strength of its photographs and the quality of its prose. It traces the broad history of the development of the vast invertebrate world which constitutes by far the greatest numbers of both species and individuals on earth. 2006, Princeton University Press

Life in the Undergrowth DVDLife in the Undergrowth (2 DVD Set)

This extraordinary BBC series sets a new standard of excellence in wildlife cinematography, utilizing the latest advances in macrophotography. We see cave-dwelling millipedes so large they can capture bats in mid-flight; the nocturnal fluorescence of scorpions as they perform a mating dance; the mysterious 17-year life cycle of the cicada; swarming antler moths; desert locusts and many more startling insect behaviors. The series is filled with scientific information on these mysterious and seemingly alien creatures upon whom so much of life on Earth ultimately depends. 2006, BBC Warner

Microcosmos DVDMicrocosmos (DVD)
Marie Pérennou, director

Using revolutionary cameras we are shown the daily life of insects as never before. A magnificent army of worker ants race to stock their larder, while trying to avoid becoming a feisty pheasant's dinner. There's a caterpillar traffic jam, a frog's bout with a rain storm, the remarkable birth of a mosquito, and the amazing transformation from caterpiller to butterfly. With its tiny cast of thousands there's no doubt that "Mother Nature remains the greatest special effects wizard of all." New York Times 2005, Miramax

The Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and MenThe Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and Men
William Longgood

William Longgood, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, in Queen Must Die describes the techniques of beekeeping and presents observations on the behavior of bees and the organization of activities in the hive. His thorough survey of the topic introduces all readers to the vast and complicated world of the hive.
“Longgood's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. He supplies a fund of unfamiliar information about a changeless civilization buzzing about its business just outside our attention." - Newsweek 1988, W.W. Norton

The Songs of InsectsThe Songs of Insects
Wil Hershberger and Lang Elliott

The Songs of Insects is a celebration of the chirps, trills, and scrapes of seventy-seven common species of crickets, katydids, locusts, and cicadas native to eastern and central North America. The photographs in this book will surprise and delight all who behold them. Many of the insects' colors are brilliant and jewellike, and they are displayed beautifully here. This book and accompanying CD provide a unique doorway to enjoyment of the insect concerts and solos that dominate our natural soundscape during the summer and autumn. The text includes information on the natural history of insects, identification tips, and an appreciation of insect song. A seventy-minute audio CD features high-quality recordings of the songs of all species, track-keyed to the information presented in the text. 2007, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

What Good Are Bugs?What Good Are Bugs?: Insects in the Web of Life
Gilbert Waldbauer

In this elegant survey of insect ecology, entomologist Waldbauer instructs readers on the major roles insects play. If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, almost every terrestrial ecosystem would totally unravel. The author catalogs ecologically important insects by their roles within an ecosystem, explaining how they live and facilitate other life. For example, one species of Great Plains ants annually brings to the surface about 1.7 tons of subsoil per acre. An average colony of honeybees harvests 44 pounds of pollen and 265 pounds of nectar a year, incidentally providing polllination services for acres of flowering plants. This well-written and entertaining book provides us a bug's-eye view of the world. 2003, Harvard University Press

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