Cover: Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures, from Harvard University PressCover: Secret Weapons in PAPERBACK

Secret Weapons

Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures

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Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674024038

Publication Date: 04/30/2007

Academic Trade

384 pages

6 x 9 inches

350 color illustrations, 150 chemical formulas

Belknap Press


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, The Times Literary Supplement

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

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, The New York Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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.Northeastern Naturalist

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

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

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

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

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 Hölldobler, Arizona State University

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 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

Awards & Accolades

  • 2005 Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, Rockefeller University
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