The Inside Out of Flies¦BOOK REVIEW

Author: Erica McAlister, Entomologist , Senior Curator of Diptera at the Natural History Museum, London
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing (sales in Australia and New Zealand)
(book available in other countries from: Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London)
Illustrated with colour photographs and high-resolution microscope images
Awards: Winner of the Zoological Society of London Award for Communicating Zoology.
ISBN: 9781486313808
Hardback: 288 pages 195 x 130 mm
Price: $34.99

I watched this little beast transform . . . from a wingless maggot to a flying machine, ready to make its inaugural flight in search of food and a mate.” This is how Erica McAlister describes her delight when she picked up a fly newly emerged from its pupal case and held it in her hand.

The photos alone are worth looking at, with their high-resolution microscope images. But the text is intriguing. In clear language and layman’s terms, it brings us through the eight major parts of a fly, natural engineering miracles that they are. The heads, antennae, mouthparts, thoraxes, wings, legs, abdomen and “terminalia” are described in all their adaptive variety and structural complexity.

She quotes Pliny, who says that “in no one of her works has Nature more fully displayed her exhaustless ingenuity” than in the flies, which are the major component of the insect class.

And flies ain’t flies. There are fruit flies, hoverflies, blowflies, house flies, robber flies, black flies, horse flies, mantis flies, marsh flies, march flies, crane flies, mosquitoes, midges, gnats and many, many more families in this major insect order, the Diptera. Among this diverse group there is a wide variety of reproductive strategies, feeding methods, body shapes, sensory apparatus, habitats and pre-adult development patterns, all described clearly in this excellent book.

Mike Gregson