Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Book Review: The Complete Field Guide to Stick and Leaf Insects of Australia



Paul D. Brock and Jack W. Hasenpusch
xii+204pp - full colour
ISBN:9780643094185
CSIRO Publishing


Despite the large number of books on stick and leaf insects published in recent decades, there have been few field guides. Indeed this is the first publication to use the term "field guide" in the title. It should be noted that for many of the more temperate regions the number of phasmids is small enough that they do not warrant their own field guide, and they are adequately covered in books on the orthoptera or insects of a region (the exception to this is Brock's Stick-Insects of Britain, Europe and The Mediterranean - although it covers a large geographic area).

Good field guides must fulfil a number of criteria:

  • Identifiablity - is it possible to accurately identify specimens in the field?

  • Size - the book must be easily carried alongside any collecting and photographic equipment. This means it must be small enough to fit in the side or top pockets of a rucksack, or in a camera or map case.

  • Durability - you don't want the cover falling off or pages falling out!

The issue of size remove Salmon's The Stick Insects of New Zealand and Seow-Choen's An Illustrated Guide to the Stick and Leaf Insects of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore from being considered as field guides. These books are much better suited as reference works before and after a trip, as is Bragg's Phasmids of Borneo and Brock's Stick-Insects of Britain, Europe and The Mediterranean. These books may well be worth taking with you on your trip, but are best left behind where you're staying when you venture into the field.

The only two previous publications that have use as field guides therefore are Seow-Choen's Phasmids of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore (A Pocket Guide) and Brock's Stick and Leaf Insects of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. As would be expected these have a large overlap! Seow-Choen's publication is full colour throughout with every species photographed, Brock's contains the taxonomic detail supported by line illustrations. The Complete Field Guide to the Stick and Leaf Insects of Australia covers the middle ground between these two - albeit for a different region.

Following a forward by David Rentz (a leading Australian orthopterist who has the genus Davidrentzia and species Onchestus rentzi & Sipyloidea rentzi named after him) the introductory chapters cover the basics of phasmid life cycle, anatomy and ecology. This in turn is followed by a chapter on collecting, preserving, photographing and rearing. The 'Guide to Species' begins with an overview of the subfamilies found in Australia.

The book uses full colour photographs throughout, and all species are photographed. Where possible live insects have been photographed, but occasionally a species is known only from museum specimens. In the field for many people photographs of live insects are far more useful as colour (particularly bright colour) fades rapidly after death. For each species as well as photographs a distribution map is given, along with body length, field characters, habitat and often other notes of interest. One annoyance for specialists will be the lack of authorities for names in the main text, although these are given in Appendix 3: Checklist of Australian phasmids. Appendix 1 contains keys to Australian genera and species which are presented in an easy-to-use table form.

Appendix 2 contains some brief notes on nomenclature, as well as listing major taxonomic publications of interest to those working on the Australian species. Appendix 3 is a concise checklist of species, with details of where to go for further information (http://phasmida.speciesfile.org is probably the easiest to access).

Although I suspect that many copies of this book will not be subjected to the rigours of field work, it has a cover of thick card and seems to be well bound (this is in contrast to Seow-Choen's Phasmids of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore (A Pocket Guide) which seems invariably to have poor binding).

Brock & Hasenpusch (2007) updated the taxonomy of Australian phasmids, with the only subsequent changes (Hennemann & Conle, 2008) being too late to make it into this publication. The book follows the checklist given in the 2007 paper, and is an ideal introduction to the Australian phasmids for the non-specialist, while still being an essential work for the specialist.


References
Bragg, P.E. (2001) Phasmids of Borneo. Natural History Publications (Borneo)
Brock, P.B. (1991) Stick-Insects of Britain, Europe and The Mediterranean. Fitzgerald Publishing London
Brock, P.B. (1999) Stick and Leaf Insects of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Malaysian Nature Society.
Hennemann, F. & Conle, O. (2008) Revision of Oriental Phasmatodea: The tribe Pharnaciini G√ľnther, 1953, including the description of the world's longest insect, and a survey of the family Phasmatidae Gray, 1835 with keys to the subfamilies and tribes (Phasmatodea: "Anareolatae": Phasmatidae). Zootaxa 1906:1-316
Salmon, J. T. (1991) The Stick Insects of New Zealand. Reed Books.
Seow-Choen, F. (2000) An Illustrated Guide to the Stick and Leaf Insects of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Natural History Publications (Borneo)
Seow-Choen, F. (2005) Phasmids of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore (A Pocket Guide). Natural History Publications (Borneo).

1 comment:

Leather Diaries said...

Interesting!

Thanks for sharing.

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