A couple of weeks ago I was preparing a new lecture on the endocrine control of alary polymorphism in aphids. As is my wont when I want to get myself in the right frame of mind for aphid lecture writing, I went across to my book shelf to get down my copy of Tony Dixon’s excellent little book The Biology of Aphids (it might be old but it has some of the simplest and clearest explanations of complex aphid biology that I know of).
To my horror (and shock) it wasn’t here. I had obviously lent it to a student and not instilled the fear of death into them 🙂 Once I got over my shock I turned to the internet (Amazon to be exact), and searched for an acceptable copy, which I successfully found*. Whilst browsing the virtual shelves however, my eye was caught by a book with the intriguing title Anna Aphid. I was stunned and amused, and as it cost less than a fiver including postage, I added it to my virtual basket.
A few days later it arrive and I was the proud owner of Anna Aphid by Christine Goppel.
Anna Aphid – http://www.christinegoppel.de/flashseite.html
I instantly sat down and read it cover to cover (it isn’t very long). I don’t usually post book reviews, but having read it and pedantically groaned at the aphidological errors, I thought I might as well as share my thoughts with you all. Anna Aphid was published by North-South Books in September 2005, and if they had any in stock you could buy it new for £9.99, (or $8.45 in the USA); don’t worry, there are plenty of used copies available, and mine was in very good condition.
The blurb for states “A tiny aphid named Anna lives on a big green leaf with her family. But Anna is different from the other aphids. She is curious to discover what lies beyond their green world. So Anna sets off to explore. In an entertaining visual guessing game, we see things from Anna’s point of view”
This is a fairly accurate statement of the content, although it gives things away a bit by saying that she lives on a leaf, as in the book Anna thinks she is living on a planet (remove the letter e and you get the pun). The book which is very well-written, details the adventures of Anna from her beginnings as an apterous (non-winged) aphid, living with her family, including her father, (yes, a big aphidological blooper). She expresses a wish to see the rest of the universe, and despite everything I had just read about endocrine control of alary polymorphism 🙂 suddenly sprouts wings, although given that her living conditions as shown in the illustrations seem quite crowded, this would be acceptable if she had just moulted to adulthood. As an aphid pedant, I couldn’t help noticing that she only had one pair of wings instead of the normal two that I would expect. The cephalo-thorax-abdomen body structure was also hard to ignore, as was the fact that poor Anna seemed to have mislaid a pair of legs somewhere.
Anna takes flight (she looks more like a frog with wings than an aphid)
Having taken flight and set off into the unknown vastness of space (from an aphid’s point of view), Anna has a series of adventures and near escapes from death. She flies too near to the sun, narrowly escaping being burnt to a cinder, then lands on the moon where she attempts
Anna landing on the moon and giving us an interesting view of aphid feet!
to eat the strange vegetation she finds there , in the course of which she reveals that instead of having piercing and sucking mouthparts, she appears to be equipped with chewing ones.
Anna exhibiting non-standard mouth parts as she eats moon fodder.
Anna then hitches a lift on a comet, and lands on a shaggy red planet, which turns out to be yet another dangerous place as she is almost sucked into a black hole. Luckily, an exploding planet hurls Anna into a bubbling sea where she only just escapes drowning by climbing onto a small island.
The bubbling sea
Safe from drowning, a gentle warm breeze helps her recover her strength enabling her to fly back to her home planet, and an excited
A warm breeze sending Anna safely on her way home
welcome from her whole family. She reports back to her father “I didn’t meet any other forms of intelligent life, but the universe is so big! Who knows what is out there” Taken as an analogy for the huge number of insects that remain to be discovered, classified and researched, I can only agree with her sentiments.
The universe revealed! Can you guess which objects were which planetary features?
Actually, pedantic aphidological quibbles aside, I quite enjoyed the book. It was a very pleasant surprise to find aphids featuring in such a positive and amusing way in fiction. It would have been nice if the biology, especially the mouth parts, eyes, and other anatomical features were a bit more true to life, but it is just possible that I am slightly jealous that it had never occurred to me to write a story about an aphid 🙂 If you have children, grand-children, nieces or nephews of a suitable age I would certainly recommend it as a very suitable present and hopefully having read it, or had it read to them, they will learn to love aphids as much as I do.
Dixon, A.F.G. (1973) The Biology of Aphids, Edward Arnold, London
*I actually bought two copies of The Biology of Aphids, one which was in less good condition. The sale details included the phrase “having owner’s name on inside front cover”, so I had to buy it just to check that it wasn’t my original copy that had been sold on by whichever student had ‘borrowed’ it. As I should have expected it wasn’t mine 🙂 but still, it is always handy to have a spare copy in case one goes walkabout like my original did.
Post post script
In one of my emails to my daughter who lives in Australia, I mentioned that I had bought Anna Aphid and to my surprise received the following reply “I bought that book! The boys know about aphids, especially Toby; “ladybugs eat them” “so I was behind the curve yet again!