The Inside Out of Flies

The inside out of flies

Erica McAlister
Natural History Museum, London, £20.00

On the last page of her wonderful book The inside out of flies, Erica McAlister wonders if she might ever produce a popular science book that does justice to the insects that she, unashamedly, loves. Suffice to say that she has, and that she has this reviewer ordering her earlier book The secret life of flies for its likely entertainment value as well as its erudition.

I am among the many readers who will never look at a fly in quite the same way again and will now hesitate or desist from swatting them. Alongside the text the scanning electron microscope photographs that illustrate the many points raised are so good and so numerous that it almost becomes a coffee table book. But it is the writing (and the flies) that deserves the champagne. So much information and so much wit.

After an initial chapter that deals with the larval stages the chapters describe the many strange and exuberant features of flies from the head, via the thorax and abdomen, to the genitalia. Given their diversity and importance chapters are also devoted to the antennae, the mouthparts, the wings and the legs.

288 pages of sheer delight that should be read by anyone interested in natural history not just entomologists and not just dipterologists. It more or less throws down the gauntlet to other scientists working on other groups of animals to come up with anything as diverse, bizarre or downright interesting as flies.

J.D Charlwood