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We've been collecting books about insects and bugs for some time as my sons have taken an interest in finding and identifying bugs. It has been quite difficult to find books that include not only the insects, but other garden creatures that children are likely to encounter. There isn't even a proper name for this group. This book is entitled 'Nick Baker's Bug Book', but many entomologists would shudder at the use of the word bug to cover such a wide variety of animals. Technically the term "bug" applies only to insects of the order Hemiptera, and many scientists have been railing against the incorrect use of the term in children's books. To make things simple, most books now tend to avoid the term, and use insect instead - but then insect does not apply to spiders, worms, or many other little creatures we might want to identify. Personally I can't stand the term mini beasts, and I'm not thrilled with "creepy crawlies" either although I do use it from time to time. I prefer the word "bug" so hats off to Nick Baker for being politically incorrect here. We all know what bug means and it suits this book, and I'm quite happy to have a book that covers so many of the creatures my sons my find out bug hunting.
This book is published in association with The Wildlife Trusts and the first page gives some information on this group. I feel this is mainly for parents. there is even a membership form at the back. However, I have not been able to determine if a portion of the sales price goes to the trust or not. After this there is an introduction with a brief introduction to the world of insects, and people's fear of insects. While Nick Baker points out that we have nothing to fear from most of these creatures, he also asks children to avoid tormenting those who are frightened of the little creatures. Most of all, he hopes the book will teach children a respect for bugs ,and to avoid harming even the smallest of things.
The next section is on bug hunting kit, and there will small sections throughout the book on building your own items for insect observation. While this looks very interesting, and I can see the value of making these contraptions, I much prefer the battery operated bug vacuum to having the children use an old fashioned pooter. A pooter is just a jar with two lengths of hose, one to suck the bug up and the other for you to draw air through to create the suction. Something about putting a tube in their mouth to siphon a bug into a jar when out bug hunting seems unsanitary. The odds of actually sucking the insect through the second hose into your mouth are quite slim, but I'll pass just the same. I really do like his worm farm, but to buy the wood and glass would cost me far more than to buy a plastic one, and I'm not happy about children running about with glass. Still, this is interesting and other people may be more prepared for the do it yourself nature of this section.
The first animal we learn about here is the earthworm, and this will tell you far more than you ever wanted to know about the sex lives of these creatures. There is even a photo which tells us that earthworms "will do it on your lawn in full view ". But there is also an identification guide to earthworms. I'd always thought an earth worm was an earth worm, but fair enough some do look differently, so now we can identify which types of worms we find. There is also an incredible amount of info into the lives of these creatures and the many benefits they give humans by helping improve the soil, as well as their importance in the food chain.
The next section is on slugs, and once again, I'd have preferred a bit less on their mating habits. The very detailed account of this process, slime included was a bit too much for me - and there are two section on this. I skipped this when reading to the boys. There is a vast amount of other information on the things - but sadly none on how to get rid of them! Yes I know they serve a purpose, as Baker reminds me, but I could certainly do with a lot less of the things. There are a few experiments the children can try, but none of these really caught our interest.
Surprisingly the section on woodlice was fascinating. I had no idea woodlice were so closely related to aquatic insects. In fact they still have gills. Surprisingly, Baker does not tell us that they have existed since the time of the dinosaurs, and in fact most likely well before,but is fascinating to view this creature as living link between the aquatic insects and the first colonists of dry land. There is also an experiment in which you can collect ammonia in jar just by keeping these insects in a sealed jar for a few days but it sounds rather cruel. Apparently they secrete ammonia all the time and are meant to be called pissibeds in Germany. They were also once eaten as a home remedy for ingestion and ulcers - I'll stick to my Tums thank you very much!
The sections on millipedes, centipedes and spiders were also excellent with all kinds of information on identification and feeding habits, including which ones can nip which is nice to know. The rest of the book is insects. There are butterflies, moths , dragonflies and damsel flies, grasshoppers and crickets, bees wasps and ants, beetles flies and more. While I wasn't big on Bakker's build your bug equipment ideas in the beginning of the book, I would love to build our own bee house or ant farm as shown. This is simply packed with information on how to find the insects, how they live and how to identify them. There are a number of fun experiments as well. There is some information on the importance of bees to humanity and a fun section on the waggle dance. The very last section is a detailed account of how to catch springtails, and some information about a few very tiny insects. Among these is the silverfish, which is the most primitive insect living, having existed unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. This book tells us this may even by the ancestor of all insects.
This book does not cover every variety of bug in Britain. There are far too many, not doe sit give detailed information on their distribution. But it does cover an astonishing amount of the most common creatures, and gives so much additional detail, I feel this is really a must for an insect loving child. This gives you so much more than just how to identify a bug. I believe this is an excellent learning resource to help children develop a good background in the life sciences, but it is also something that help children to have less fear of insects, and to be more tolerant of them. Like them or not, we do need the insects. Of course some become pests and must be kept under population control, but if an insect doesn't harm us, it is best to let it be. In particular, some insects like bees and butterflies may need a bit of extra help to make up for population loss due to loss of habitat and chemicals used by humans. Learning about insects has encouraged my sons to want to grow certain plants to attract them and create suitable habitats.
I paid £2.81 for this book from amazon including postage. It is only available used. A newer book 'Nick Baker's Bug Book: Discover the World of Mini-beast' is now available for £6.89 new. I would strongly recommend this for any child with an interest in bugs.