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May. 01, 2013

Book Review: Britain's Hoverflies

by The Bug Chicks

Click to enlarge images
Every once in a while, there comes a book that makes you reevaluate an entire genre. This is what happened when we received our complimentary copy of Britain’s Hoverflies: An Introduction to the Hoverflies of Britain, by Stuart Ball and Roger Morris (sent for our review by Princeton University Press). One part field guide, one part text book, and one part thorough scientific key (with startling attention to detail), this gorgeous volume is all you’ll ever need if you are into hoverflies, of which there are about 6,000 species in the fly order, Diptera.
 
Flipping through, we were first impressed by the vast amounts of information packed into 296 pages. From collecting to identification, from conservation status to life cycle, this book covers just about every topic on these insects. It's also beautifully organized. While each page is full of facts, figures and pictures, the layout makes it easy to find the information.
 
And the maps. Oh, the maps! A beautiful color gradient seasonality chart at the base of each map takes distribution maps to the next level. Wonder if you should you be seeing a certain species during a particular month? Check the map!
 
Meanwhile, the photographs—more than 500—are stunning and, more importantly, relevant for comparative study. Throughout the book there are images of commonly mistaken insects next to certain species of hoverfly. Some photos focus on morphology that's not likely to be observed without a microscope and box of specimens. For example, we doubt that you'll see the "spurs on the hind trochanter that typify the subgenus Neocnemodon" as it's zooming by or cleaning itself on a leaf. But for students of entomology this is exactly the type of detail that elevates this volume to must-have status.
 
Is this book for the casual garden insect watcher? Perhaps not. But then again, if there were more field guides like this,  casual insect lovers could easily turn into serious aficionados. In short, this book makes us want to organize a specific trip to Britain. A hoverfly safari. We’ll start on page one and not leave the country until we’ve seen every last species.
About The Bug Chicks

Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks. They each have Masters Degrees in Entomology and love to teach people about insects and spiders.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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