C. Philip Wheater, Helen J. Read and Charlotte E. Wheater
The mantra of the field naturalist should be: “see a log – roll it over”. I’ve certainly lived by this credo ever since the day I was big enough to roll over a large flint in my parents’ garden and see the handsome Black Rove Beetle, Ocypus pedater, go scurrying off into the root thatch. Logs and stones are very important animal habitats, especially for invertebrates. They provide moist shelter in a harsh dry world and each log rolled often reveals its own broad ecosystem. This does mean that the types of creatures likely to be uncovered are hugely varied, and the usual identification guide specialism needs to have much more latitude. Having said that, the usual denizens regularly turn up — mostly beetles, ants, woodlice, centipedes, millipedes, spiders and molluscs. A habitat-based approach has been highly traditional in books about pond-dipping, so it is perhaps surprising that this is the only popular volume based on the cryptosphere, as this semi-subterranean world is sometimes rather grandly titled. The most important ecological aspect of logs and stones is that they form an interface with the soil and leaf litter layer, and their trap/edge-effect element is extremely important when it comes to sampling these expansive and nebulous ecological zones. For the entomologist, rolling over a log is very much opening a window into this hidden secret world. This present book is a massive revamp of the original Naturalist’s Handbook first published in 1996 – in those 27 years the slim 90-page booklet has now become a heavy 344-page tome. The majority of the book is given over to identification keys, and these are greatly expanded from the first edition. There must still be some approximation though, it would not be possible to include all the potential ground beetles for example, so larger and commoner species are prioritised. Nevertheless, the finished pragmatic and practical assortment works well. All the usual suspects, and quite a few unusual ones, are here. I think it was an oversight not to include any heteropteran bugs (the shieldbugs Podops inuncta and Thyreocoris scarabaeoides, and several Lygaeidae ground bugs are frequent) but I’ve already used the book, to good effect, to identify some springtails, harvestmen and flatworms that I’d otherwise have passed over.