Sunday, December 17, 2023

Book Review: Flower Bugs

I must preface this review by stating that the author, Angella Moorehouse, and publisher, Heather Holm, are personal friends. That is not why I am conflicted in my reaction to this book. Neither is it because I view this book as being in competition with any of my own works. We cannot have enough literature devoted to promoting public understanding and appreciation of insects. It boils down in part to my own biases and expectations. With that, you will still receive an honest appraisal.

Pollination Press, LLC produces plant-based books about insects, usually restricted to a particular geographic region. Holm's comfort zone is clearly in botany, though her prior books about bees and wasps, as they relate to flowering plants, demonstrate a command of general entomological knowledge, and dedication to thorough research. There is no question that her books deliver accurate, factual information. From my perspective, as an entomologist with little familiarity or interest in plants, I immediately see what is "missing" in terms of species, even families, because those insects are not associated with forbs.

There is a desperate need for more books that illustrate the ecological networks of different organisms, but Flower Bugs: A Guide to Flower-Associated True Bugs of the Midwest is limited to the flowers of herbaceous flowering plants, and almost exclusively those true bugs that may play a role in pollination, or those species that frequent flowers as a place to ambush other pollinators. The territory covered is eight states (Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Indian, and Ohio), and adjacent southern Ontario, Canada. The book is in fact based mostly on a detailed survey of locations in western and central Illinois, over a period of seven years.

The true bugs treated are further restricted to the suborder Heteroptera, which includes the larger, more obvious examples like stink bugs, assassin bugs, mirid plant bugs, and seed bugs, but leaves out the families of aquatic bugs, plus the other two suborders that include cicadas, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, and aphids. All of these specifics are stated explicitly in the introduction of the book.

The layout of Flower Bugs includes the trademark features of Pollination Press' other books: prolific and quality imagery, geographic range maps, seasonal distribution bars showing what months the adult insect is present, tables of plant species associated with each insect species addressed, diagrams of taxonomic relationships, a glossary, checklists, and a visual index.

The front matter of the book is, as usual for this press, presented to near perfection in degree of detail, and coverage of morphology and ecology. It is an excellent introduction to true bugs as a whole, for the intended audience of native plant gardeners, naturalists, resource management personnel, and others.

The species accounts cover the overall geographic range, variation in physical appearance, life cycle, feeding, habitat, and native plant associations. The images are occasionally redundant, but frequently include photos of the immature stages, which most field guides fail to do. In cases of the mirid plant bugs, assassin bugs, and other families for which there are few flower associates, there are photos of other species for comparison, and to better indicate the full diversity of these groups. Given the lack of any other contemporary guides to true bugs, this gesture is appreciated.

The last book to cover the true bugs for a popular audience was probably Bugs of the World, by George C. McGavin, published in 1993 and 1999 by Blandford, an imprint of Cassell, in London. Back then, the true bugs were classified much differently. In 1978, How to Know the True Bugs, by James A. Slater and Richard M. Baranowski, was published by Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers in Dubuque, Iowa, as part of their "Pictured Key Nature Series." That reference also covered the suborder Heteroptera, but assumed the user had a pinned specimen and a microscope at hand.

The fact that Flower Bugs is the most up-to-date popular reference to North American Heteroptera, no matter how limited the scope, is enough to recommend it. You will no doubt find yourself stalking the true bugs in your own yard, neighborhood park, or other favorite habitat. You can be confident that this book will provide you with an accurate ecological perspective, and interpretation of the behaviors of these insects.