Sunday book review – Bee Tiger by Philip Howse

I enjoyed this book hugely – and rather more than I thought I might. Was I really interested in one large insect with a rather spooky pattern on its thorax? Well, yes I was as it turns out but this is really a book about perceptions, and that is a fascinating subject.

Because of its patterning and colouration this large moth has been seen as a harbinger of death in human societies and found its way into much folklore and art as a result (and onto the posters advertising the film Silence of the Lambs). It’s just a moth, for heaven’s (or hell’s) sake! So there’s quite a lot to get your teeth into over that. But then we are given the bees’ tale, the bats’ tale and the birds’ tale in separate chapters which tell three different stories, and the science behind them, about how this moth gets away with raiding bees’ nests for honey and how it interacts with two of its predators.

So there are four different stories to tell about this moth, and each of those is, in its own right, of great interest, but coming together in one moth they make a fascinating combination and open up many thoughts about how we perceive the world. The book is very well written with an easy style but one which seems to me to be scientifically rigorous. Professor Howse is a good communicator of both facts and ideas.

We are invited to think about how we perceive the world. It’s easy to see (hear or feel?) that people experience the world in a different way from Honey Bees but that doesn’t get us very far. And bats’ use of echolocation is easy to understand in principle but not so easy in detail. Birds, though, experience the world in a very similar way to we people, we tend to think, don’t we? And other people experience the world in the same way that we do, don’t they? You and I would agree that the sky is blue (when it is) because we’ve learned that that sky colour is called blue – but is my blue the same as yours? How would we know?

I enjoyed this book because there is a lot that is explained, and a lot of areas opened up for further thinking. That has to be a good book.

The cover? Got my interest and attention – 7/10.

Bee Tiger: the Death’s Head Hawk-Moth through the Looking-glass by Philip Howse is published by Brambleby Books.


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