Thursday, September 22, 2011

Five books on the art of observation

Alexandra Horowitz holds degrees in philosophy and cognitive science, and teaches in the Department of Psychology at Barnard.

She is the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.

With Daisy Banks at The Browser, she discussed five books on the art of observation, including:
Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates
by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney

Your third choice is Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney.

This is a guide to identifying the tracks that insects leave behind. It is a glossy field guide which is densely packed with 500 or so pages, and it is a phenomenal book that should get a large amount of attention. It also shows insects, but mostly it is about the “sign” that show insects have been there in the past. The authors are identifying characteristics such as eggs or webs or droppings or leaf mines – which are little trails along leaves – or leaf galls where the insect has disrupted the growth of a leaf.

If you were trying to track down a particular insect this book would be a great way to help you.

Absolutely. You can identify what the insect is that is damaging your plant or your tree. But the authors see the sign as beautiful in itself, and it really is. As gardeners, we might just see it one way, but it is also evidence of the huge proliferation of this successful population of insect species. I have taken a walk with Eiseman for my book. In the least auspicious block possible, we saw a mind-boggling array of insect sign. He has many great images in the book. One of my favourites is an image of one of the beautiful bark galleries. These are tracks left under the bark by things like bark beetles, which lay their eggs under the bark. When the eggs hatch, each one heads off, excavating a trail under the nest site. What results is this radiating image on the bark of the tree which is extraordinary. Of course, it also does some damage to the tree, but to be able to see it as those two things at once is what this book has done for me. It made me realise the omnipresence of insects. Their sign and tracks are everywhere.
Read about another book Horowitz tagged.

The Page 99 Test: Inside of a Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue