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Tuatara: Volume 19, Issue 3, August 1972

Book Reviews

page 126

Book Reviews

New Zealand Insects and Their Story

Richard Sharrell has collected, observed and photographed New Zealand insects for nearly 30 years in the role of an enthralled naturalist. His aim in this book is to convey ‘in text and pictures something of the enchantment of living things’ without dwelling overmuch on the ‘dreary textbook approach’, an aim which he has achieved with distinction. Hs writing is sensitive, some scientists would say over-emotional, but it is in harmony with the concept of the book.

Naturally enough, Mr Sharell's own investigations have included only a relatively small proportion of our insect fauna. This is reflected in the structure of the book which is a blending of these observations with material derived from other sources. His accounts and illustrations of such examples as the Praying Mantis, Red Admiral butterfly, Monarch butterfly, Magpie moth, Lichen moth, Gum Emperor moth, Tiger beetle and wetas, to name the main ones, are full of interest and originality for all readers, be they professional scientists or interested laymen. For instance on p. 27, the well-known and bizarre habit female mantids have of consuming their mate during copulation is discussed and Sharell has shown with simple experiments that males of the New Zealand mantis, at least in cages, are able to consummate several successive matings without suffering this fate. Again, on p. 128 there is an interesting and so far as am aware, original suggestion, that stick insects living on manuka infected by the black manuka-blight may possibly be evolving towards a melanic form in the manner of industrial melanism in European Lepidoptera. Snippets such as these and many others testify to Sharell's acute observations, the data are first-hand and first rate.

However, this is not a book on a few species, it aims to be comprehensive. To broaden the coverage of New Zealand insects, Sharell has called upon information on species unfamiliar to him. Here one finds less confidence in some of his statements. For example on p. 129 the short-horned grasshoppers (Fam. Acridiidae) are described as dull greyish-brown or yellowish insects of small size. This scarcely does justice to the specialised subalpine fauna page 127 of grasshoppers where brilliant colours can be quite striking and females may reach 48mm. total length. Moreover the peculiarity of our fauna of 15 species of grasshoppers is not that only three occur above 3000ft, but that only three occur below that altitude. Although not the author's intended meaning, a statement on p. 108 suggests that aphids, leaf-hoppers, scale insects and cicadas have no wings at all.

Common names for New Zealand insects have always led to confusion among different authors, to the extent that the Entomological Society of N.Z. in 1967 published a list of accepted names for common insects. Sharell uses these in conjunction with scientific names and in many cases Maori names as well. Nomenclature is thus as accurate as it can be in the midst of change, with the exception of a plate caption (pl. 69) which describes a noctuid larva as a ‘grass grub’.

The superb colour plates are definitely the highlight of the book. The subjects are carefully arranged with the touch of an artist. Colour reproduction is generally of high standard but no indication of natural size is given, a common fault with close-up photographic illustrations.

The insects are presented in groupings more or less akin to their taxonomic categories. The basis of insect classification is explained in the general text and in more detail in a ‘catalogue of insects’, a section borrowed from Wiggleworth's ‘The Life of Insects’ (1964) with some new illustrations applicable to the local fauna.

Insect origins are discussed with particular reference to Peripatoides and Ooperipatus, the New Zealand genera of Onychophora, but coverage of the zoogeographical relationships of our insect fauna is disappointingly brief. A chapter devoted to the life and work of J. H. Fabre and G. V. Hudson is included to emphasise the heights to which ‘insectmen’ without professional training (like Sharell himself) can rise.

This book is a valuable contribution to the New Zealand literature, providing illustrations and snippets of original information on a wide array of living insects with more detail lavished on certain selected examples. I hope it will go a long way toward stimulating interest in insects as living entities to be appreciated rather than annihilated.

page 128

Freshwater Fishes and Rivers of Australia

At Last there is a book on Australian freshwater fishes! This is a much neglected field of activity in Australian biology, and it is really pleasing to see the publication of a book about these little known fishes. Although the book is only 61 pages long, the relatively large format and small print mean that much useful information is packed between the covers. There seems a rather excessive wastage of space, e.g. p. 19 is little more than half occupied, but the organisation of the book into family groups is probably partly responsible for this.

The title of the book is a curious one, as only two and a half pages deal with the rivers and all the remainder of the book is on fishes, although each species has listed the catchments in which it has been recorded. No doubt fish students will be pleased to know that nearly all the book is concerned with fishes!! The inside covers have maps of Australia, on which the subdivision of the continent into numbered catchments is portrayed, and there is also a key to the catchment numbers and a series of letter codes that indicate the status of each species, noting occurrence outside Australia, utility as sports fish or food, etc. Unfortunately the key to these numbers and letters is hidden by the inside fold of the dust cover, and takes a little finding.

The book lists 231 species, in family groups. Many of these are really freshwater vagrants, and only about half (including diadromous species) are truly freshwater fishes. Introduced species are given coverage comparable with native species. Each chapter covers a family, containing a list of species with common names, and details on distribution. A simple but quite adequate representative outline drawing is included for each family. In the text there is a general discussion of distribution, and then all known details of breeding (Lake's special interest) are discussed. The feeding habits of some species, as well as their quality as food, are briefly mentioned. Some species are discussed in considerable detail, others appear only in the family listing, and this variation in depth of treatment reflects how variable is the present knowledge of the fauna, and how little is known about so many of the species. Lake mentions several times, the poor state of the taxonomy of the fauna, and the need for comprehensive revisions. The dust cover states that the book will ‘aid in correct identification’, but this just isn't true. No aids to identifications appear, apart from colour photographs, and a great many of the species are not illustrated in any page 129 way. I doubt that coloured photos of one or two species in a diverse family can be regarded as aids to identification of the species in the family. But at least we have a list of species, even though Lake emphasises its tentativeness. The dust cover is more to the point in noting that the book ‘highlights … gaps in our knowledge and should aid and stimulate those who wish to make a study of our freshwater fishes’. This, I think, is the true function of the book, apart from its very useful compilation of information on reproduction. Current knowledge of the fauna does not permit a comprehensive guide to the fauna.

Following the family accounts is a short and succinct chapter on reproduction and distribution, and another on the future of Australian freshwater fishes. There is a short but helpful glossary, although the uninitiated may have difficulty locating pelvic fins — defined as situated between the pectoral and anal fins—in species such as Gadopsis, Kurtus and Pseudaphritis, in which the fins are jugular. There is a very brief list of references limited to literature cited, a table for conversion of metric units (used throughout) to British Units, and separate indices for common and scientific names. Although he does not labour the point Lake places strong emphasis on the damaging effects of dams and water control projects on the fish fauna and reveals an interesting form of pollution — thermal pollution in which there is a decline in water temperatures due to release of cold water from the bottoms of large dams. He minimises the role of introduced fishes in affecting the indigenous fauna, a controversial subject about which little is really known.

There are 16 fine colour plates with 96 individual photographs, mostly of fish, a few of habitats. It seems a shame that so many of the fishes had their tails cut off, or were nosing out of the edge of the picture, because the photos themselves would be the envy of any aquarium photographer; they make the book a candidate for the coffee table in an era of some competition.

I found few errors, one or two mis-spellings, including the old gremlin Oncorhynchus (spelt Onchorynchus), and truttaceus (truttaceous); one author cited has his name spelt in different ways on one page.

If you are interested in identifying members of the diverse fishes in the Australian freshwater fish fauna, this book may be a disappointment, but I don't know where you could turn for help. If you are interested in learning what is known about the small freshwater fish fauna of this enormous and dry continent this book should supply you with some interesting reading.

R. M. McD.