Reviewer: Dr Sam
Title: Bonkers about Beetles
Author/Illustrator: Owen Davey
Publisher: Flying Eye Books (published 2018)
Themes: Beetle ecology, diet, behaviour, habitat, camouflage, specialist adaptations.
Click on title links or cover image to purchase.
‘Bonkers about Beetles’ is engaging, informative, beautifully illustrated and now one of my favourite children’s natural history books! Firstly, the title has the word bonkers in it (what’s not to love), which says to me that the book is going to be clever and witty (which it is). Secondly, the book is scientifically accurate and well-pitched for primary school children. I have a 4 and 7-year-old and both were equally captivated. However, due to the use of very well-designed illustrations and entertaining text, I really think older children could enjoy it as well. I can’t imagine many older primary children being so across beetle ecology that they didn’t find this book interesting. Thirdly, the illustrations are fantastic, they have this really bold and engaging appeal for children, whilst still ensuring they portray the necessary facts about beetles.
We learn lots of really interesting beetle facts in this book, including:
- Beetles are abundant, accounting for approximately one quarter of all described animal species on the planet (some other sources say this could be as much as one third);
- Dung beetles lay their eggs inside rolled up balls of animal dung (poo!) that they create from the dung of larger animals (e.g. elephant);
- Fireflies are in fact beetles (and are found throughout SEQ, including visiting our house sometimes, which is magical) and use bioluminescence to make their abdomen (bottoms) glow and flash – if your children have never seen a firefly (Tinkerbell in Peter Pan doesn’t count) then I recommend this 4min video from Science Friday; and
- Beetles are beautiful and come in a huge range of colours, sizes and readily use camouflage to hide from predators. I highly recommend this website, which features some amazing beetle (and other insect) photos by Dr Alex Wild, an entomologist friend of mine based in the US.
The difference between bugs and beetles
Often the word bug is used as a general term to describe any insect (see my review for Gecko), but in the world of invertebrates, bugs and beetles are often genuinely mixed up because they can have so many overlapping features. As a general rule:
- Beetles belong to Order Coleoptera, they have chewing mouth parts and eat a wide variety of plant and animal material and their forewings or elytra (the outer part we see) form hard coverings protecting a second pair of more delicate hindwings;
- Bugs (sometimes referred to as true bugs) belong to the Order Hemiptera, they have sucking (or piercing) mouth parts generally used to suck the juices out of plants (i.e. nectar or sap), although some can suck animal fluids/blood and their wings are only partially thickened or membranous. For more information visit Australian Museum’s site.
Owen Davey is listed on the cover, presumably as both artist and illustrator – but on visiting his page on the Flying Eye Books website, or his own website, he describes himself as an artist (highly awarded and successful). This made me wonder whether he wrote the text or if this was developed inhouse at Flying Eye. A quick look at the back of the book lists Dr Rosalyn Wade as the consulting scientist. Dr Wade works in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. This may seem like a trivial detail, but it really matters. Not all children’s natural history and science books are created equal – some lack scientific credibility, but not this one. The use of a consulting scientist I take as evidence that Flying Eye Books are serious about their potential to engage children in science and ensure their material is factually correct.
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