Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Waiter, there's a Xixuthrus in my soup

“The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Insects” by Dr V J Stanek is precisely that! I've heard somewhere that the Czech original was published by a publishing house specializing in books for tweens and teens. Or was that the Slovak translation? Be that as it may, you need a strong stomach (or a prolonged bug period) to sift through this. Most photos are in black-and-white, but the insects look stunningly disgusting anyhow. Some myriapods and a whole bunch of arachnids have been thrown in for good measure, as well, despite not being Insecta.

Indeed, the work starts off with a huge, scary photo of an Indian scorpio (Ptolamnaeus fulvipes). Next out is Euscorpius carpathicus, a “wood scorpio” found in Central Europe and Britain. Ouch! Suddenly, I became less motivated to take a walk in those woods… As for the bugs sensu stricto, there are surprisingly few ants in this volume, despite being one of the more well studied insect groups. But don't worry, Dr Stanek compensates for this by showing us assorted flies, fleas, lice and bird lice. There are also a lot of butterflies and macro-moths, although their beauty is somewhat diminished by the black-and-white photos.

The only insect believed to be hunted to extinction by man is featured: Xixuthrus heyrovskyi, found on the island of Viti Levu in Fiji. Apparently, this large long-horn beetle was so delicious that the islanders literally consumed every single one. However, about 20 years after the publication of this cyclopaedia, Xixuthrus was rediscovered, once again proving that the island gods love beetles, so I suppose the feast can continue…

There are a few colour plates, and while some of them do show butterflies, the crazy Czech editor has given over one huge colour photo to the Hog Louse, and another to a fine collection of tropical tics!

And yes, the written presentations of each bug are very short. But then, this is the pictorial encylopedia of insects….

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