Stories and science about nature's most complex, crucial and highly adaptive insect.
The Secret Life of Flies takes readers into the hidden world of snail killers, con artists, crazy sex and a great many silly names. It dispels common misconceptions about flies and reveals how truly extraordinary, exotic and important are these misunderstood creatures.
There are ten chapters:
1. The immature ones - Squirmy wormy larvae can be just a bit unnerving, especially when they're in large numbers.
2. The pollinators - Those annoying No See Ums, or midge flies, are the only pollinator of the chocolate-producing cacao tree, a status held by many of the pollinators.
3. The detritivores - These garbage eaters are often fluffy and thus water-repellent, good for a life spent in a sewer.
4. The vegetarians - Entomological spelunkers, many of these flies prefer plant roots forsaking the leaves to other creatures.
5. The fungivores - The mushroom eaters include the dark-winged fungus gnats whose wing patterns are one of the author's favorites.
6. The predators - Here are the most devious and imaginative methods of luring, capturing and eating prey.
7. The parasites - Their methods of survival are often disgusting but the evolutionary genius is admirable.
8. The sanguivores - McAlister responds to the perpetual question, exactly why do we have blood-sucking disease-spreading mosquitos?
9. The coprophages - The champions of dung, detritus and other unpleasant things.
10. The necrophages - The body eaters without which we would be in a most disagreeable situation.
In clear language, McAlister explains Diptera taxonomy and forensic entomology, and describes the potential of flies to transform their relationship with humans from one of disease vector to partner in environmental preservation. She has a wonderful knack for storytelling, deftly transforming what could be dry descriptions of biology, reproduction and morphology into entertainment. She takes readers to piles of poo in Ethiopia by way of underground caves, latrines and backyard gardens, and opens the drawers at the Natural History Museum to rhapsodize over her favorite flies.
The Secret Life of Flies is full of stories and tongue-in-check descriptions, but the science is rigorous, authoritative and will be enjoyed by dipterists, lepidopterists, insect enthusiasts, naturalists, and general readers.
Erica McAlister is curator of Diptera at the Natural History Museum, London. As a child, she kept dead mammals to watch the maggots emerge from them, and as an adult she will admit to "squealing like a child" when rummaging through the museum's collections. She has studied around the world, and recently presented the BBC Radio 4 series Who's the Pest?