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book review: the songs of insects

CatbooksI received an awesome book just in time for summer: The Songs of Insects by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger. This gorgeous book provides species accounts for 75 North American crickets, katydids, and cicadas, and includes an audio CD of the songs of each of them.

Introductory material includes chapters on the biology of insect songs, human perception, appreciation and aesthetics, and understanding sonograms. Each group of insects (e.g., true katydids, cicadas) is preceded by a short overview, with an emphasis on singing behavior. The section on cicadas includes maps of each of the twelve broods of the 17-year cicada (Magicicada septendecim), with the years of the last two and next two emergences for each. Having experienced the spectacle of Brood X in 2004, I can enthusiastically advise you to look at the maps and plan a trip to the next emergence near you.

Each species account has several beautiful, detailed photos of the featured insect, a range map, a sonogram, and a brief description of the insect and song. The information is not overly technical or dense, but instead offers a few interesting and pertinent highlights regarding their appearance and behavior, and they are charmingly written. I cannot emphasize enough how stunning the photography is!

The audio CD has wonderful recordings of each insect and its calls and songs — now familiar songsters of the night have identities. For me, putting a name to an organism really enhances my appreciation and interest. There are also several tracks at the end from another upcoming CD, Insect Concertos, which is one-hour of non-narrated insect choruses.

Lang Elliott is well-known for other excellent “audio field guides” such as Know Your Bird Sounds and The Calls of Frogs and Toads, among many others. Wil Hershberger is an incredible photographer. I can’t think of anybody else who could do such a spectacular job on such a book. I have a wonderful field guide to orthopterans — Field Guide To Grasshoppers, Katydids, And Crickets Of The United States — but The Songs of Insects, while not a field guide per se, is nonetheless my hands-down favorite.

This book is a must for any nature lover, and it’s a bargain at under $14.00 at Amazon. I am really looking forward to mid-summer when I can put this to book and CD to use. Highly recommended.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Patrick May 9, 2007, 7:49 pm

    I'm so glad you reviewed this. I just saw it in the store recently and now I really can't wait to get it. I have his "Frog" book which I really enjoy.

  • George Layne September 3, 2007, 9:37 pm

    questions for mr. bootstrap.

    1. who are you ? couldn't ID you from anything on the page.

    2. Here's the real issue. WHEN do slugs mate? After 20 years living in suburban philly, I came across the spectacle for the first time. Most of my birding friends (Militia Hill Hawk Watch) have never seen it. I found the youTube thing, but what sets off the activity? The moon? WHEN do they mate !

    George Layne

  • Nuthatch September 3, 2007, 9:58 pm

    1. That's good, it's intentional.
    2) Here is what I know about slug mating. I suppose it can occur much of the warm season, and probably has more to do with humidity and rainfall than the moon, etc.