Gullan and Cranston's Fifth Edition of The Insects, An Outline of Entomology

December 8th, 2014

CUIC Book Review

The Insects: An Outline of Entomology, Fifth Edition. 2014. P.J. Gullan and P.S. Cranston. John Wiley and Sons, Ltd., Chichester, West Sussex. xxv + 595 pp. US $99.95.

Penny Gullan and Peter Cranston have recently produced a revised fifth version of their text, maintaining much of the structure and style of the former editions, but significantly updating the information and adding a chapter on human-mediated changes in insect distributions; i.e. global climate change, globalized commerce, and invasive insects. The text broadly covers topics essential to an introductory entomology course, including: 1, systematics, diversity and evolution; 2, external and internal anatomy, physiology, neurobiology, reproduction and development; 3) ecological relationships, including habitat specialization, predation, parasitoidism and defense; 4, infraspecific interactions such as sex attraction and sociality; and 5, topics germane to human society, such as medical entomology and pest management. We have used this book to support our introductory Insect Biology course at Cornell University, and so this review should be viewed as a discourse on how the text can successfully support undergraduate and graduate teaching of introductory entomology.

The book rightly commences with an overview of insect diversity, as that phenomenon provides the foundation for the disciplines of comparative anatomy, physiology, and development. The authors have adopted what I believe to be a clever strategy for supporting the study of insect diversity; i.e. the use of independent text boxes, either scattered through the chapters in appropriate positions that support the chapter topics, or in a separate penultimate section presenting attributes of the various Orders. These Taxoboxes provide thumbnail discourses on each Order accompanied by wonderful stipple drawings by Karin McInnes. A trailing Appendix provides even shorter diagnoses of the Orders and an index of the chapter boxes and Taxoboxes in which information on the Orders is presented. As an instructor, this organization permits me to assign about 40 pp. of reading, abundantly illustrated, prior to our first field lab, thereby allowing uninitiated students to have at least a clue about what they might have in their net during their first collecting day in the course. This approach works worldwide and puts off comprehensive keying to subsequent lab periods dedicated to that activity. Other more appropriate resources external to this text can then be used for authoritative identification of specimens for an insect collection, should that requirement be part of the course curriculum.

I find that this book can support lectures that include first-year entomology majors, upperclassmen, and entering graduate students, with a suggested caveat. When faced with a table such as one that lists 35 neuropeptides, freshmen who may or may not be taking college chemistry but who certainly have no experience in “orgo” or biochemistry, will invariably ask the age-old six-word question, “Will this be on the test?” The setting off of tables and boxes with color allows the instructor to reassure such students that understanding general concepts is far more important than memorizing lists. Whether this helps such students feel any better is unknown; at least it allows instructors to reiterate their philosophy about teaching. To ensure that students actually read the text, I have instituted weekly study questions based on material covered in the book, not my lecture, with this activity assigned a significant portion of the course grade. [I acknowledge Mary Barbercheck and Ann Hajek for this idea.] This exercise has proved wildly successful—students asked about the questions one week when we were not scheduled to provide them—and class performance in aggregate was higher than in years I did not include this exercise. Thus given the impetus, students read the book, value the experience, and learn more Entomology.

So why buy this book or use this edition when the older Fourth Edition may be had for half the price from Amazon? In addition to the new chapter with associated boxes that deals with invasive insects—a topic that should be included in every introductory course—the new edition includes additional or updated boxes covering mating, species recognition, molecular dating, insect gigantism, composting with black soldier fly larvae, and ground dwelling insects. Moreover, over a third of the references cited at the end of each chapter have been added since the last edition, with the greatest amount of recent citations in the Systematics and Pest Management chapters. The book is supported by a companion website that includes Powerpoint versions of all illustrations and PDFs of all tables, thereby aiding lecture development. By significantly updating the information presented in the book, the authors amply illustrate the dynamic nature of Entomology. Insects can capture the imagination of new students, but showing those students that Entomology can sustain an exciting life is the means to recruit the ablest minds to our discipline. This book is an excellent ambassador to that pursuit.

James K. Liebherr, Curator and Professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY