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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars unravelling the genetics of sheep in wolves' clothing, 13 Nov. 2009
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This is a deep book about superficial appearance. About harmless insects dressed up as wasps in black and yellow stripes; about why black and yellow stripes are the best way to dress if you really are a venomous wasp, and about how to be invisible or camouflaged from wildlife to battleships.

A central theme is the genetics and evolution of butterfly mimics - some butterflies are genuinely poisonous to birds but others, totally harmless species that live in the same area, mimic these with identical wing colours and pattern. The genetics of a group of these insects has been unravelled and is described.

I found this a bit heavy going as I'm only just updating my 1960s genetics education, but fascinating stuff. Thank goodness we have such books, as the wonder and fascination of the natural world as genetic techniques reveal it provides the mirror image of the natural history programmes on UK television. David Attenborough gives us the pictures and story around the planet and a host of science writers is now showing us the equally beautiful and stunning 'works' under the surface.

I found this book thought-provoking, not just because it ranges from science to art (artists designing paint schemes for ship camouflage) but in its fleshing out the way evolution works. In 1932 W. H. Auden wrote (about the political landscape of the time)

"Some possible dream, long coiled in the ammonite's slumber
Is uncurling ....."

Just so; the author shows how the genetics of a butterfly mimic hark back to its ancestors as the old gene sequences 'uncurl'. Thought-provoking stuff.

I wish the illustrations in the book were more numerous and placed in the text instead of the old-fashioned block of plates centrally. That all the pictures of butterflies had been put together with clear labels which would have helped me with the hard bits. And I got a bit impatient with the chapters on the navy and wanted to get back to wild life, but that's just me.

Overall I would highly recommend it to anyone who already has a smattering of the new evo devo genetics.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Be dazzled, 20 Jan. 2010
This is a wonderful, fascinating tour of mimicry - how do animals, through the blind process of evolution, come to resemble toxic species to avoid being eaten? How do they 'know' what they should evolve to look like? Taking a long look at the history of butterfly biology and taxonomy, this book explains the science in depth, while never losing sight of the sheer curious fascination of evolution in action. It does help to have an awareness of biology and the workings of genetic theory - but only in the sense of having a sense of the process through which genes are passed on. Peter Forbes is a great companion - entertaining, learned and diverse.

He describes the evolution of camoflague in animals, insects and the adopted camoflague of humans in battle. I loved the history of dazzle ships, having heard of them but having no knowledge of them at all. Fascinating. In fact, the military parts were equally captivating as the biology. Truly a thoroughly-researched and well-told tale.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and by hugh D. Loxdale, 3 Jan. 2014
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I think that this books marks a major achievement in terms of a comprehensive overview of camouflage and deception in the natural world, as well as human usage of camouflage in time of war, both in the past, present and undoubtedly the future, e.g. invisibility cloaks! What is especially amazing is that the author is not a trained scientist as such, but nevertheless has pulled off a major feat of writing a splendid book on this important topic. Personally, I learnt a lot for the book, especially about use of camouflage in the 1st and 2nd world wars. I found relatively few errors of fact concerning the biology and I congratulate the author for all the hard work that went into researching the subject matter for the book, both biological and that concerning human affairs. If nothing else, Peter Forbes shows us, if we didn’t know it already, that it is a cruel and unforgiving world out there and that animals especially have to adapt all the time to their surroundings…or perish. Insects, with their generally brief lives, are under constant attack from every angle - predatory mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, spiders and other insects, to name but the most important of them, and they (the prey) have to be on their guard - potentially at least - every second of the day. Hence, evolution must not be seen as a slow process taking millions of years, but rather, as an ecological process happening in real time, that is, the lifetime of the individual concerned. As such, is blows away in one fell swoop any notions of so-called ‘intelligent design’ and ‘special creation’, and shows that nature is ever dynamic and changing…just as we have to be to survive, especially during wartime. As an entomologist and ecologist, I recommend this book …if for no other reason than it opens eyes, and makes us aware that life on earth is often even more incredible than we can possibly imagine, and certainly as amazing as what we might imagine on far away planets in far away solar systems and galaxies.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Relentless Butterflies, 27 Feb. 2011
P. J. Dunn "Peter Dunn" (Warwickshire) - See all my reviews
The first two impressions I had of this book where that it was somewhat slow to start, and that it was obsessed with butterflies. Despite a small butterfly being just one illustration among many on book's dust jacket the coverage of butterflies was relentless. For brief moments one seemed to escape them but they just kept coming back.
The butterflies receded somewhat in the middle part of the book which digs into dazzle stripes and disputes over wartime camouflage, but that's just a ruse, suddenly they are back and dominate the book again till the end.
However there is in fact a point to their dominance and if you can put up with them swarming through the book you will be well rewarded.
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