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Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures Hardcover – November 15, 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

"Defense is at the root of the evolutionary success of arthropods." And what a panoply of defenses they display. The authors—Thomas Eisner is J. G. Schurman Professor of Chemical Ecology at Cornell University; his wife, Maria Eisner, a research associate of biology at Cornell; and Melody Siegler, an associate professor of biology at Emory University—present 69 examples. They range from Mastigoproctus giganteus (the vinegaroon, which ejects a spray with an acetic acid content of 84 percent when it is physically disturbed) to Apis mellifera (the honeybee, whose stinger produces a chemically complex venom made up of about half mellitin, which is largely responsible for the pain associated with a bee sting). Yet with all that is known on this subject, much must remain to be discovered because millions of arthropod species are thought to be undiscovered. "Think of what this means," the authors say, "in terms of biological wonders lying in wait, in terms of new bugs and bug adaptations awaiting discovery."

Editors of Scientific American

From Booklist

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. The book is divided into short chapters, each of which tells the story of one species or group of related species. Color photographs, mostly from Eisner's collection, illustrate each chapter, and the chemical formulae for each species' defensive substance is provided. A list of the major references from the scientific literature appends each chapter. 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1st edition (November 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674018826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674018822
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,115,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 4, 2006
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: 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.
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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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Quit interesting. The book gives information about the species such as scientific and common names, general information, as well as how it delivers the toxin. I wish it had more specifics about the toxins though it often provides the chemical name and structure. It gives enough information that, regardless of your specific interests, you have enough details to base further inquiries on.
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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.Read more ›
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