Insects can be fascinating and beautiful. Who, on a balmy summer afternoon, has not admired a red admiral butterfly drinking nectar from a garden flower or watched fascinated as a damsel fly emerges from its nymphal skin to flit over a garden pond like a small, gaudy helicopter? At the same time, we are aware that some insects are nuisances. We flap at wasps, see aphids attacking the flowers on which the butterfly feeds, and later in the afternoon, we curse the mosquitos that suck our blood. Even so, most people, especially city dwellers, are blissfully unaware just how dangerous insects can be for us, our pets and livestock. Medical and Veterinary Entomology should be read not only by doctors and vets but by environmental scientists, entomologists and laymen, who will find it fascinating. Ideally, it should be compulsory reading for young people taking a year out to travel the world.
The accounts of diseases are well balanced, concentrating too heavily on neither the pathology of the diseases nor the biologies of the insects. Arachnids (spiders, scorpions and mites) become "honorary" insects. The editors give their reasons for this in the introduction, which reviews the history of medical and veterinary entomology and outlines the main problems caused by insects. These fall into two classes: first, problems caused directly by the arthropods, such as annoyance, stings and direct invasion or parasitism; second, their role as transmitters or vectors of disease. The latter role probably has the biggest economic and medical impact on human societies and it is treated more fully in the second chapter, "Epidemiology of vector-borne diseases".
Each of the remaining 22 chapters is devoted to a different taxonomic group. The consistent style makes it easy to find one's way around what is a large book: each chapter is separated into the same list of ten topics, including taxonomy, life history, public health and prevention and control.
They are well illustrated by line drawings, monochrome and colour photographs, and conclude with a list of references and further reading.
Anyone thinking of starting a new course or degree module in this area of science would be advised to consider this book as their basic text.
After reading about the public-health issues generated by insects, it is hardly surprising that huge research efforts are aimed at controlling pest species. Gone are the days of the blunderbuss approach of blanket applications of potent insecticides such as DDT. Instead, targeted control looks for the chink in the pest's armour. Very often it is found in its physiology. Anyone interested in teaching insect physiology will find a good choice of suitable textbooks published in recent years. Nevertheless, Physiological Systems in Insects is well worth considering. Like the first book, it is laid out as a series of well-illustrated, self-contained chapters, each devoted to a different physiological system (for example, endocrine, muscular, circulatory and communication). Each has a self-contained reference section. Terms listed in the glossary are highlighted throughout. This text is clearly written and easy to use and might be purchased by students and entomologists working in other fields of research, especially if it were more moderately priced.
Graham W. Elmes is a special merit scientist at Nerc's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Winfrith, Dorset.
Medical and Veterinary Entomology. First edition
Editor - Gary Mullen and Lance Durden
ISBN - 0 12 510451 0
Publisher - Academic Press
Price - £65.00
Pages - 597