Brock, Paul D. and Hasenpusch, Jack W. (2009). The complete field guide to stick and leaf insects of Australia. CSIRO Publishing. Pbk. AU$45.
Field guides are an obsession with me. The idea of having everything categorized and labeled and gathered together in one place has huge appeal. (If you saw my office, you'd understand why.) So when CSIRO published 'The complete field guide to stick and leaf insects of Australia', I had to buy it. Of course, until I find a phasmid, I won't be able to test the book's effectiveness as an aid to identification but that's beside the point. My Collins 'Field guide to the larger mammals of Africa' is of even more limited utility but that didn't stop me sticking it on my mammal shelf. It's a field guide. That's good enough for me.
The phasmid book covers all of the 101 species known from Australia (including those from Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands). Entries give information about the size, identification features and habitat and is accompanied by a distribution map and one or more photographs. Each species is given one page, except for some of the better known or more spectacular stick insects. Dryococelus australis of Lord Howe Island, the little known Eurycantha calcarata from Far North Queensland, Eurycnema osiris from northern Australia and several others are treated to double page spreads. Many of the photos are of live animals, whereas some are represented only by pinned museum specimens. Eggs are included wherever possible. With a group so understudied and cryptic, you take what you can get.
The photos are excellent. Unfortunately, the mismatch between the shape of the insects and that of the pages means that sometimes details are lost. But that's the trade off in producing a well-illustrated, moderately-priced field guide that can be carried around in your pocket. A larger format might have done greater justice to the photographs but (I suspect) would have cost rather more than $45. The pictures of the lichen form of the Macleay's spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum bufonium) and the turquoise-and-green peppermint stick insects (Megacrania batesii) are great but would have been stunning at a larger size.
There's a good introduction to phasmid life cycles and anatomy, which points out key features used in identification. Other sections cover habitat and ecology; and collecting, preserving, photographing and rearing.
Tucked away in the appendices is the serious stuff. Appendix 1 contains keys to species and genera, divvied up by subfamily. Easy-to-follow tables summarize the diagnostic features for each taxon. These are supplemented by detailed information on each genus. It seems to me that this information might have been better placed between subfamily descriptions (pp 34 – 38) and species descriptions (pp 39 – 148) but it's no real problem. Appendix 2 contains a list of significant literature on phasmid classification. Appendix 3 is a checklist of the Australian species.
I'm glad I bought it. It has inspired me to set up egg traps under trees in the garden of my next house, just to see what might be lurking in the canopy. And then this book will really come into its own.
I was tempted to call this post 'sticks and leaves' but the potential for confusion between nouns and verbs was too much for me.