An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Arthur V. Evans + Charles L. Bellamy

illustrated by Lisa Charles Watson
University of California Press 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000
The feature of An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles which immediately catches the eye is its glorious photography — a hundred pages of colour photos. The majority are of mounted specimens and, though some have an almost unearthly beauty, I did find these rather artificial. But there are also more informative photos of beetles in the wild, and a useful selection of line drawings. The text is on the dry side, with the authors not shying at all from technical terms (though they do explain them as they go) and not giving the more exciting material any special prominence. The result is not really for the general reader: it will appeal most to those who are coleopterists or nascent coleopterists, and to those with a broad interest in comparative biology.

Evans and Bellamy begin with one of the drier topics, taxonomy. A fifth of all known species are beetles — thus Haldane's purported quip that the Creator must have an inordinate fondness for them. Chapter two is a tour of beetle anatomy, a detailed progression from the head backwards, outlining the standard "beetle blueprint" and describing species with unusual features. And chapter three looks briefly at the evolution of beetles, from Permian origins to the present (and their importance for paleoclimatology).

The longest chapter covers beetle life-history and ecology. It describes beetle reproduction and life-cycles (some are ovoviviparous, some parthenogenetic, some lack a pupal stage, some use bioluminescence to attract mates) and different solutions to finding food (there are beetles that feed on pretty much anything: plants, animals, dead matter, dung) and avoiding becoming food (Batesian and Müllerian mimicry, chemical defenses). It also covers some of the variety of parasitic and symbiotic relationships of beetles, notably with ants, termites, bees, and wasps.

The final chapters turn to the relationship between beetles and humans. The first touches on the etymology of "beetle" in different languages, surveys the appearances of beetles in religion and art, and describes their culinary and medicinal uses. The final chapter looks at "beetlephilia" (the emotional relationship between people and beetles, a special case of Wilson's biophilia) and at beetle conservation.

June 2000

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%T An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles
%A Evans, Arthur V.
%A Bellamy, Charles L.
%Q Watson, Lisa Charles
%I University of California Press
%D 2000
%O paperback, colour photographs, references, index
%G ISBN 0520223233
%P 208pp