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Secret Weapons Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions and Other ManyLegged Creatures: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions and Other Many-Legged Creatures Paperback – 4 May 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (4 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674024036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024038
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,359,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

It's impossible to read this beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book without feeling a heightened sense of wonder. --Eric Ormsby

Secret Weapons is festooned with surprising information about the chemical ecology and defense mechanisms of a variety of terrestrial arthropods. --J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson

The secret weapons of a collection of 69 insects and their kin are revealed in this fascinating collection of essays. Each essay focuses on a single species and is beautifully illustrated with clear and revealing photographs of the creature's defenses.

The arthropods--those multilegged, lowly denizens of the planet that most of us would probably like to forget--are masters at the art of defense. Outnumbering all of the other animals put together, the arthropods have survived through their mastery of a multitude of chemical weapons. In their fascinating new book, the authors, all of whom study the defensive strategies of arthropods (insects, scorpions, centipedes, etc.), provide an overview of their different methods of chemical defense...This unique guide to froth, venom, sprays, sticky coatings, and so forth will satisfy both the casual reader and the serious student and is a very worthy addition to any natural history collection.--Nancy Bent"Booklist" (10/01/2005)

The present volume is a beautifully illustrated guide to the defense systems of mainly North American arthropods, especially insects... The first of its kind, this primer will prove indispensable to a broad audience, from lay naturalists to students, teachers, specialists--even medical doctors.--Annette Aiello"Library Journal" (11/15/2005)

"Secret Weapons" is festooned with surprising information about the chemical ecology and defense mechanisms of a variety of terrestrial arthropods...Mythology may be replete with imaginative ideas but, as Thomas Eisner and his colleagues have shown in this rewarding book, truth is often much stranger than fiction.--J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson"Times Literary Supplement" (04/28/2006)

"Secret Weapons" is a delight. Although one could consult this book piecemeal, as a reference, I read it cover-to-cover simply because each successive chapter presented a new story that simultaneously enchanted and piqued my curiosity. The result was that I continued to read on to the next chapter in anticipation of yet another surprise and more marvelous pictures. I was never disappointed. With its instantly accessible and often humorous prose, the volume's target audience could well include naturalists, high school and college teachers, graduate and undergraduate students, and, as the authors suggest, "all those to whom nature never ceased to be a source of wonder."--Fredric V. Venci "Quarterly Review of Biology "

The text is technically precise but...the prose is bright and engaging...Eisner and his colleagues have skillfully captured the staggering diversity of exudates and delivery systems that arthropods possess--sights that have simply not been readily available even to the scientists who avidly peruse the chemical ecology literature. The book offers an invaluable source of illustrations for all audiences.--May Berenbaum"Science" (01/13/2006)

Arranged as a series of case studies of arthropods, together with a few noninsectans, this extraordinary book lays bare the almost incredible array of chemical stratagems these otherwise vulnerable creatures have adapted for their survival. If the case studies are astonishing, the numerous color photographs are even more so...It's impossible to read this beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book without feeling a heightened sense of wonder.--Eric Ormsby"New York Sun" (07/12/2006)

This book is eloquent. It concludes with a short section on "How to study insects and their kin" and a useful index. Throughout, it is eminently readable, and replete with ideas for future work. It is also very well produced, and should be of wide interest to entomologists and more general readers alike.--T. R. New"Journal of Insect Conservation" (10/05/2006)

The book is a collection of fascinating stories, a useful field guide, a rich textbook and will be appreciated by scientists as well as naturalists. It provides an insight into a small pan of the hidden and fascinating world of small creatures that few people know, but which is worthy of study.--O. Nedved"European Journal of Entomology" (01/01/2007)

The world of arthropod defenses is delightfully introduced in this new book coauthored by one of the experts in the field, Tom Eisner, and two colleagues, his wife, Maria Eisner, and Melody Siegler. This volume is a series of fascinating vignettes (69 in all) about the multitudinous defenses used by arthropods, ranging from a variety of defensive sprays and secretions, to barbed hairs, to stings and venoms, to cryptic coloration. While the concentration is certainly on chemical defenses, there are others included as well, such as the "spittle" of spittle bugs, the trash heaps that lacewing larvae pile on their backs, and the click of the click beetle. The authors write in an engaging and very readable style, making the sometimes complex anatomy and chemistry accessible to all those interested in behavior, ecology, chemistry, and evolution, whether from a professional or a personal perspective. The fascinating biology and chemistry of these animals provide examples that can be used to excite students about science at many levels...In sum, this was a thoroughly delightful introduction into the fascinating world of arthropod defenses..."Secret Weapons" brings together the fields of natural history, chemistry, behavior, ecology, and evolution and has appeal for professional scientists, students, and anyone fascinated with the natural world. This volume will be a wonderful resource for many years to come.--M. Deane Bowers "Ecology "

"Secret Weapons" will fascinate and occupy students and scientists indefinitely! Indeed anyone interested in how nature functions -- the many special interactions that make ecosystems work -- will thoroughly enjoy this fine volume.--Peter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden

This is by far the most beautiful and instructive book on behavioral chemical ecology I have seen. It is a book to give to your students, to your fellow scientists, and to your non-scientist friends who want to know why you study insects and other arthropods.--Bert Holldobler, Arizona State University

"Secret Weapons" is another triumph from the fabled Eisner laboratory -- a report on wonderful science backed up with spectacular pictures. It will introduce you to a fascinating world that few people know but everyone should know.--Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University

A glorious collection! The fruit of a lifetime's delectable curiosity, "Secret Weapons" brings the fascinating ways of insects into focus with a unique, sparkling vision. By turns smart, funny, and insightful, this book is the perfect guide to a magical, if little-known, realm.--Diane Ackerman

A stunning example of the interdisciplinary nature of modern science. "Secret Weapons" weaves together natural history, organic chemistry, chemical ecology, and behavior to sketch out an important field as enticing to the genomicist as to the naturalist.--Fotis C. Kafatos, Imperial College, London

"Secret Weapons" is a field guide like no other. Well-written and splendidly illustrated, it is required reading for anyone interested in how insects avoid becoming someone's lunch.--Ian Baldwin, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Germany

About the Author

Thomas Eisner is J. G. Schurman Professor of Chemical Ecology at Cornell University. In 1994 he was awarded the National Medal of Science, and in 2005 he received the Rockefeller University Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science. Maria Eisner is Research Associate of Biology at Cornell University. Melody Siegler is Associate Professor of Biology at Emory University.


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Format: Hardcover
The "weapons" in the title are mostly chemical. They are poisons that insects and their kin use to protect themselves from predators. Spiders, insects, snakes and other animals use poisons to subdue their victims as part of their preying arsenal, but what the authors focus on in this unusual book are chemicals used by "many-legged creatures" as defensive weapons. Pick up certain beetles or fly larvae or especially some grasshoppers and caterpillars and they will vomit noxious stuff on you. It will smell bad, it may contain harmful bacteria, and it will be "spiked" with deterrent chemicals stemming from plants eaten by the insect.

Or the insect may defecate on you. Imagine that you are the size of the insect, one of its predators. Imagine the effect of copious amounts of feces coming at you. The authors show how these defenses actually work on predators like wolf spiders and even small rodents. I was especially struck by how often these defenses apparently evolved as defenses against ants.

Of course many insects spit, spray, sting, and bite in response to being disturb or threatened. This is how they deliver their noxious chemicals, their poisons, their foul-smelling stuff, their stuff that stings, debilitates and even kills. Eisner, Eisner and Siegler give numerous disquieting examples of exactly how this is done in 69 very creepy chapters. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular creature or Family of creatures from vinegaroons (Chapter 1) through bombardier beetles (Chapter 35) to the honey bee (Chapter 69). Millipedes, cockroaches, ants, aphids, termites and many others make their gruesome appearance.

Gruesome...? Well, it's all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. The many photos of the creatures that accompany the text are arguably beautiful.
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Format: Paperback
This book is both incredibly interesting and beautifully presented. Each chapter comprises accessible text, excellent photography and an extremely knowledgeable and well researched guide to the strategies and defences adopted by selected arthropod groups. The species included are North American but are no less fascinating by this limitation of range. The book centres around the chemical defences and chemical formulae and references are provided in each account. This is a wonderful book providing a solid feel for the diversity of these beautiful creatures - a joy!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is O'K some nice photos and lots of written information,but not enough coloured photos for my liking!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x88ece5c4) out of 5 stars 13 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88d5215c) out of 5 stars Lavishly illustrated; thoroughly professional 5 Aug. 2006
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The "weapons" in the title are mostly chemical. They are poisons that insects and their kin use to protect themselves from predators. Spiders, insects, snakes and other animals use poisons to subdue their victims as part of their preying arsenal, but what the authors focus on in this unusual book are chemicals used by "many-legged creatures" as defensive weapons. Pick up certain beetles or fly larvae or especially some grasshoppers and caterpillars and they will vomit noxious stuff on you. It will smell bad, it may contain harmful bacteria, and it will be "spiked" with deterrent chemicals stemming from plants eaten by the insect.

Or the insect may defecate on you. Imagine that you are the size of the insect, one of its predators. Imagine the effect of copious amounts of feces coming at you. The authors show how these defenses actually work on predators like wolf spiders and even small rodents. I was especially struck by how often these defenses apparently evolved as defenses against ants.

Of course many insects spit, spray, sting, and bite in response to being disturb or threatened. This is how they deliver their noxious chemicals, their poisons, their foul-smelling stuff, their stuff that stings, debilitates and even kills. Eisner, Eisner and Siegler give numerous disquieting examples of exactly how this is done in 69 very creepy chapters. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular creature or Family of creatures from vinegaroons (Chapter 1) through bombardier beetles (Chapter 35) to the honey bee (Chapter 69). Millipedes, cockroaches, ants, aphids, termites and many others make their gruesome appearance.

Gruesome...? Well, it's all in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. The many photos of the creatures that accompany the text are arguably beautiful. With some detachment I can see the earwig (Doru taeniatum) shown in all its black and brown and tan glory on page 77 as quite attractive. (However the beauty of the photo of the cockroach with its egg case hanging out the back on page 59 is a bit beyond my ability to fully appreciate.)

Nonetheless I realize that people who collect and study insects do find them attractive, and properly seen they are as beautiful as...well, Penelope Cruz. Insects are marvelous beings with the most amazing talents, their abilities well beyond that of modern science to emulate. Would that we could build robots with the ability of the ant! Still I must say that for many readers this book could prove an unsettling experience. But in truth the photos are amazing. They are brilliantly colored and sharply focused, showing the creatures in various poses, eating, mating, being eaten, fighting, secreting, guarding eggs, etc. And there are some very nice shots taken through microscopes that reveal wondrous detail.

Clearly "Secret Weapons" is a book for enthusiasts and professionals. Not only are the scientific names given for each creature along with the common names, the authors also give schematic drawings of the elemental composition of each of the chemicals used by the many-legged creatures! Furthermore there is a chapter on "How to Study Insects and Their Kin" in which the kinds of equipment (plastic bags, forceps, nets, vials, hand lenses, scalpels, petri dishes, insect pins, etc.) used by professionals are not only listed and described but presented in color photos. Each chapter concludes with scientific journal and book references for further study.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88d521b0) out of 5 stars The Wars of the Multilegged 8 July 2006
By Rob Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Even if you live in the city, you probably encounter insects or spiders every day. Such animals are enormously successful almost anywhere you go, except for marine environments. There are many reasons for their success, but in _Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures_ (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), the concentration is on defensive strategies, diverse and strange. The authors, Thomas Eisner, Maria Eisner, and Melody Siegler, are biologists with a mission, to show largely in photographs some of the defenses, especially chemicals but also mechanical measures, mimicry, camouflage, and warning colors. The authors say this is the first photographic introduction to the defenses of arthropods, and it is a book of wonders. It consists of 69 short chapters, each featuring one arthropod and concentrating on a particular method of defense. There are "sprays, oozes, sticky coatings, ... enteric fluids, feces, or systemic toxins." Some insects produce their chemical defenses as part of their physiology, but others grab toxins from the outside and eat them or smear them on themselves to get protection. The toxic or irritant chemicals are shown here in diagram form. The degree of sophistication of defenses among these most humble of creatures must incite any reader's admiration.

There is one surprising tactic after another on these pages. It is amazing, for instance, that any creature is able to use hydrogen cyanide as a weapon; cyanide is an almost universal poison, blocking the chemical cycles of oxidation. Soil centipedes, however, have pores along the body that secrete a sticky substance with cyanide in it. The cyanide forms outside the centipede's body where precursor molecules meet after being ejected. There is a picture shown of a centipede maternally guarding her eggs, ready to launch a cyanide attack on any ant or spider of which they are the natural prey. Acetic acid is familiar as the sour flavor in vinegar. The arachnid named the "vinegaroon" is so called due to the acetic acid in its spray. Vinegar has only a few percent acetic acid, and the vinegaroon's spray has 84%, the highest concentration in nature. Not all the defenses here are chemical; some are mechanical. The bristle millipede looks like a bottle brush. The tufts at the rear of the millipede are actually bunches of hairs with tiny grappling hooks on them. If an ant attacks the millipede, it touches a tuft to the ant, and the hooks attach to hairs on the ant's body. There are barbs on the shaft of the hook as well, and so the millipede's hairs interconnect, immobilizing the ant in a network of locked hairs; when the ant tries to clean itself, it only gets more tangled. Green lacewings lay their eggs on stalks to protect them, and on the stalk leave droplets of oil that repel ants. Once the egg hatches, however, the larva itself can ingest the oil on the way down. Lubber grasshoppers vomit copiously when attacked, and seem to eat noxious food just to make sure the point gets across. Tortoise beetles contract themselves into an almost perfect hemisphere with no folds or cracks on which a predator might make purchase; they also use an intricate system of oil and bristles on their feet that adhere them to a surface so strongly that no attacker can take them away. The larva of another tortoise beetle has a special fork extending up from its tail; it is a feces fork on which the larva hangs, well, feces, and it keeps the feces even in successive molts. The feces form a shield that can be rotated for protection against ants and spiders. Bombardier beetles spray their toxins at the temperature of boiling water; some spiders know to wrap and entangle the beetle gently without causing the discharge, and only to bite down when the rear end is completely enveloped. Sophisticated tactics and counter-tactics seem to be deployed in an ever-increasing cycle. _Secret Weapons_ is beautifully illustrated, and provides hundreds of astounding instances of the baroque lengths to which evolution has driven chemistry, morphology, and behavior.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88d525e8) out of 5 stars Beautiful Photo-log and Chemical-Defense Attributes of Insects 23 April 2007
By Bugs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book has beautiful color photos (note the front cover for an example) of a good array of mostly North America insects along with their taxonomic order and common names and with brief explanations of their ecology and specific defense mechanisms coupled with detailed chemical analysis.

The book finishes with photos and explanations of essential insect collecting gear and lab analysis equipment.

Over-all, I was struck with the incredible dynamics of insect defenses and how researchers are finding ways to harness these chemicals for a host of products such as medicines, bug repellents, plant defenses, etc. Medical researchers, biochemists and laymen alike, should find this information most helpful and interesting.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88d529b4) out of 5 stars A basic and knowledgeable look into insect survival 19 Feb. 2013
By kmcdough - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Secret Weapons is a basic guide for learning about specific defense mechanisms of insects, spiders, and scorpions. The book is intended for a broad overview of the mechanisms of insects and arthropods that have allowed them to successfully thrive for so many years and so many different environments. The focus was mostly on organisms that would be easy to capture photographs of, but also those that are primarily in North America. As it were, this is where most of the research was gathered and most of the photographs were taken. All of the defense mechanisms are described rather simply with descriptions of the different chemical compounds used, or physical attributes of the organism that allow them the ability to survive against predators and against competitors. There is insight into where these organisms can be found and also what kind of predator or competition is associated with each organism. Pictures are given for almost all of the organisms described with a variation of the types of pictures as well as the different settings. The set up of the book is organized by Class, orders, and then family. With in each family there is a species given with its common name to the right of each. Each of these is given in the contents section at the beginning of the book and then each chapter is described in the same way with all of the same information. Included within the text of the book are different procedures performed in order to observe different chemical and physical properties of each organism. At the end of the book, there is a chapter designated for instruction on how to perform simple experiments and tests to observe and study the chemical and physical defenses of the different organisms. Secret Weapons gives a broad biological base for the different defense mechanisms used by all the organisms discussed within the text.

Overall, Secret Weapons gives a very good introduction and general insight into the defense mechanisms of insects, spiders, scorpions and various other arthropods. The book is set up by chapter in order of the Class, Order, Family and different species within each family. With little prior knowledge of the above there is only some confusion as to what is being discussed. There are species names given as well as common names which are the last thing written for each title of the chapter. A person reading the book can still understand what organism is being discussed and how. Each defense mechanism described is supplemented by clear and concise pictures furthering understanding of what is being discussed. This makes it very clear as to what is being discussed and in what way. The pictures allow an understanding that may not be comprehended by the text alone. These include the excretion of chemicals, and close-up views of how these chemicals are excreted. If the basic anatomy of insects and different arthropods are not known the information about how chemicals are excreted may not be understood by just reading the text. Just by the pictures alone, a lot of information is given and the general knowledge of each chemical or physical defense mechanism is clearly understood. At the beginning of each chapter the natural environment of each organism is given which gives insight into possible competition or predators. With this in the introduction, the text smoothly flows into the use and importance of the different defense mechanisms. In this way the book is easy to read and follow as each chapter gives very good general information and quickly builds into more detailed information.

With absolutely no prior knowledge of insects and the organisms discussed in the book, some of the information given may be slightly overwhelming or not easily understood. The main point of each organism's defense mechanism is clearly stated at the beginning of the chapters and then is discussed further in detail. The physical defenses of certain organisms, such as losing a leg when grasped, are clearly understood in the text. The chemicals associated with each organism are not so easily understood. This is where a reader may get lost in the technical jargon of the chemical compounds. Although they were clearly given and discussed for the organism at hand, there could have been more information given for the leisurely reader. In addition to the chemical names and drawn chemical compound structures, there could have been examples given of where these chemicals are found elsewhere either naturally or synthetically and the effects they have on humans.

Proven to be a very interesting read, the book itself is more of a compilation of information from different places and different research given for the organisms discussed. The main focus was on organisms of North America and little else as it was noted that the extraordinary capabilities of the organism's defense mechanisms described give great insight into the importance and success of insects and arthropods on a global scale. The purpose of the book was to give a brief understanding of arthropod defenses with text and then further supplemented by pictures. This book really does just that. The authors are quite aware that Secret Weapons is not a full and comprehensive look at arthropod defenses, but merely a resourceful and straight to the point introduction. Not only does this leave the reader curious about more specific defenses, but also insect and arthropod defense mechanisms of organisms outside of North America. It can be assumed that this book was made for a number of different audiences through its clear, concise and easily understandable text. Whether it's for a student, someone just looking to read something different, or to be used as a field guide, this book is a good choice for all interested in this area of study.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88d52960) out of 5 stars Nice style and content 27 Jan. 2008
By D. E. Hill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is written in a concise, synoptic manner. This is a very effective style for presentation of the diverse subject matter in this book, and I would like to see it used elsewhere. It greatly simplifies the assimilation of essential information. In my opinion there is no better introduction to the wide scope of innovations related to arthropod defense, and chemical defense in particular. The Eisners are to be commended to make this information, previously available only through the review of a large number of separate scientific publications, so readily accessible to the public. This book is as useful to the scientist as it is to the young student of nature. Remarkable!
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