Category Archives: Insects

Pollinators & Pollination 2021

Pollinators & Pollination. Nature and Society. By Jeff Ollerton. Published by Pelagic Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78427-228-9.  2021. 286pp. £24.25

As the blurb states Prof Jeff Ollerton is ‘one of the world’s leading pollination ecologists’ who works at the University of Northampton. Most of his 30-year’s research is poured into this major work and it has plenty of graphs as an evidence base for his ideas and theories. He states that he has pitched the book ‘at a very broad audience, and is intended to be comprehensible to anyone with an interest in science and the environment.’ He has succeeded admirably in this aim, and it covers an area not explored by other bee experts whose work is discussed. This is the first time I have seen a blanket acknowledgement for all his academic contacts rather than mentioning bee experts by name. This is not just about bees and pollination – though it may seem that way as Apis mellifera is a major pollinator – it is about all pollinators, birds, reptiles, mammals and invertebrates. There are an estimated 350,000 terrestrial vertebrates and invertebrate species that move pollen, for the estimated 352,000 species of flowering plant: so flowering plants are well catered for and co-evolution is patently evident.  Invertebrates are the commonest pollinators: the estimated number of species, from the largest to the smallest as listed, are Lepidoptera (141,500 species), through Coleoptera (77,300), Hymenoptera (70,000), Diptera (55,000) and Thysanoptera (1,500 species).The book has 14 chapters ranging from ‘To be a flower’ to ‘Agricultural Perspectives’ to ‘New Bees on the Block’ – mostly about the Tree Bumblebee and The Ivy Bee, and the 17 species of bee, wasp and true-flies that have turned up in Britain since 2000. A lot of the collation has been by BWARS.  He even has a chapter on ‘The politics of pollination.’ There is a section on neonics in which Ollerton reminds us they are chemically similar to naturally occuring nicotine, which used to be used a long time ago. He debates all sides of the issue, but unfortunately just missed the latest UK authorisation of neonics prior to publication. In reviewing the literature he shows that some recent research ‘strongly implicated as a likely driver of those declines.’  It is good to see that Buglife-The Invertebrate Conservation Trust is mentioned, as well as the National Pollinator Strategy. As the author states ‘I have tried to provide a personal, state-of-the-art overview of what pollinators are, where they are to be found, how they contribute to the pollination of both wild and agricultural plants, supporting the wild ecosystems…’ etc.  There are just a few colour photographs dotted about the book, but it really offers extended essays on topics rather than pretty photos that can be found in a host of other bee books.   The References run to 32pp and there is an index.

Oates’s Purple Emperor

Matthew Oates. 2020. His Imperial Majesty, a natural history of The Purple Emperor. London, Bloomsbury Wildlife. 416pp £20.00 HB

The author, retired from The National Trust, is the UK’s expert on the Purple Emperor, and this book reflects his particular obsession with ‘His Majesty’. The title is borrowed from the Victorian era. The sub-heading accounts for the minutiae of the species whose preferences have led Oates a merry dance amongst the woodland, scrub and farmland throughout the UK, notebook in hand over the last few decades. Oates says that the book could not be written without his involvement with the wilding project at Knepp (West Sussex), and Isabelle Tree, the co-owner of Knepp, has written a lively Introduction. Of Knepp he says it has become the foremost Purple Emperor site in Europe, and later says that a private estate in East Sussex is the best breeding ground he has ever seen. Oates has had to change his views on the habitat preference of the Purple Emperor, away from its perception as a forest species, even though he variously says in the book that it is an arboreal species and a canopy-loving species.  He argues that the species is now widespread and not rare any more, and he champions the species as the National Butterfly. What about the Swallowtail, or Large Blue? Oates is quick to say that various lepidopterists are wrong or have differing opinions: Heslop, Frohawk and Pratt. Of Heslop he says it is a pity he did not publish his notes, and Oates goes on to rely heavily on Heslop’s work. As the author points out, the book is clearly written in an anthropomorphic manner with a few concessions to science, principally the reproduction of distribution maps. His penultimate chapter is on Conservation Issues, but you have to work hard to find any bullet points on how to conserve the insect, mostly focusing on sallow management. He says that he is not convinced that the species actually ‘needs some thinking and practices of contemporary nature conservation.’ That said Oates argues for a rigorous peer-reviewed scientific work on the ecology of the Purple Emperor and gives useful tips for future research topics. This book, that embodies his almost complete dedication to the species, will not do, even though the 17 chapters are packed with day to day factual ecological information from his exhaustive and laudable time in the field over the last few decades. The book is a little repetitive and could have been more tightly edited, and there are bits about Christine Keeler, and Pygmy Hippos that could have been edited out. Many lepidopterists are mentioned, but some like the Rothschilds (Charles and Miriam) are not. Miriam was also a lover of butterflies. There is a short glossary, references and further reading, but the best, previously unpublished section is the Appendix which runs for 50 pages and describes county by county, wood by wood, the varying and increasing range of the species that has not been collectively drawn together elsewhere. Excellent. The book is an interesting read and will appeal to all the followers of Purple Emperors, of which there is a fan club.

Wasp by Richard Jones

Wasp. Reakton Books Ltd. 2019. 207pp

Almost 100 titles in the ‘Animal Series’ have been published by Reaktion Books, and they all good reads, and collectible. The author is a leading UK entomologist and has already written the ‘Mosquito’ book. The books follow a familiar format showing how the species has been illustrated and written about from the earliest times, in this case since the Egyptians, 5000 years ago. The black and yellow wasp ‘brand’ is explored, and even the book cover is black and yellow. The book has interesting chapters on ‘warning colours’, ‘paper architecture’, ‘tabloid mayhem’ and ‘what is the point of wasps’; on the latter it is pointed out that they are part of biodiversity and are useful predators of other insects. The book covers wasps worldwide (the 4000 species of vespid hymenopterans) and in relation to the recent arrival of Asian Hornet into the UK, this is up to date to 2019. For those who like wasps, this book is an excellent exposé of their capabilities, their form and function, and their niche in the world. The wider context of wasps in the world is rather more interesting than the entomological detail.  In the next edition the small tortoiseshell on p. 51 should be corrected to the large tortoiseshell.

Bees of the B.Isles – review

Handbook of The Bees of The British Isles by George R. Else and Mike Edwards. Published by The Ray Society, 2018. Two Volumes. Vol.1: 332pp Vol.2:776pp. £137.50


This has to be the bee book of the century. It will not be surpassed for decades. It is written by two experts who have put several decades of dedicated work on these hymenoptera into the book. George Else, who I originally met in the virgin rainforests of Sulawesi in 1985 on Project Wallace, worked at The Natural History Museum in London as curator of bees and certain aculeate wasps, until he retired in 2007. Mike Edwards was originally at Leeds University and helped to set up BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society), latterly running his own ecological consultancy. The germ of this book was realised by George Else who has a great debt of gratitude for Mike Edwards becoming co-author of these mighty tomes. Many entomologists and hymenopterists are acknowledged for inputting their information, data, diagrams and photographs, and on the latter Paul Brock is mentioned as the ‘all round entomologist…and outstanding insect photographer’ who has supplied many of the photographs. And they are excellent.  The aim of the book was to photograph all bee species in the UK in the wild, which was achieved, save for the two only known from museum specimens: Halictus subauratus and Bombus pomorium. On their count there are 277 species of bee species have been recorded from the British Isles. Of those 171 are known from the Channel Islands, including 11 species that are unknown in the mainland of Britain.   George’s original idea was not to include any photographs which would have been a bad idea. All the photographs are included on a handy CD.  Volume 1 includes information on recognition of bees, how to photograph them, where to find them and identification of pollen loads. After the comprehensive keys to bee genera the book launches into the systematic review of all species, with maps, that flows over into Volume 2. The photographs throughout are excellent for identification purposes but it is not likely that the amateur entomologist or naturalist will ever pay the £137.50 for these wonderful books.  Only serious bee enthusiasts will.

Mulberry by S.J.Bowe, Review

S.J. Bowe 2015. Mulberry, the material culture of mulberry trees. Liverpool University Press. 124pp.

Mulberry Book

If ever there was an introduced tree that has such a fascinating historical record in the grand gardens of Britain it is the mulberry. The book looks at both the white and black mulberry species and how they are wound up in the silk industry and associated with people such as James 1 and Shakespeare as well as Morris, More and Milton. The unique part of the book is its approach to the use of mulberry in the Japanese sashimono furniture tradition, highly regarded and often used in the tea ceremony. It is beautifully illustrated in colour showing many artefacts such as whisk shapers, tea containers all made from mulberry. This is a serious, almost academic book though accessible for general readership – the author is Senior Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University – magnificently published and ideal for dendrologists, especially those keen on the historical perspective of the Morus genus, as well as antique dealers and enthusiasts of Japanese art. Each of the five chapters has exhaustive references and there is a good bibliography and useful list of 100 UK gardens where mulberries continue the tradition. 

Bumblebees of Kent, Review

Nikki Gammans and Geoff Allen, 2014. The Bumblebees of Kent. Kent Field Club. 164pp.

BB of Kent 2013

Kent has more bumblebee species than anywhere else in the UK, and it has Dungeness as an almost unique habitat that supports many. Drawing all the information together has been Nikki Gammans and Geoff Allen who have produced a key work on all the species, past, present, cuckoos and invaders. Each species has information on identification, distribution maps, autecology, and habitats together with colour photographs showing features. The book is strong on ecology, mimicry, classification and conservation with copious information on field work, and has references and glossary. It is for all field naturalists and published by The Kent Field Club from whose excellent stable other key works have been produced – a lesson for neighbouring Sussex. Dr Gammans leads the Recovery Programme for the Short-tailed Bumblebee – where national work on bumblebees is progressing well in Dungeness. Look out for all her work on bumblebee recovery.