Children love minibeasts – and so do I! As an envi-ronmental education teacher, I spend a lot of time rummaging around in leaf litter, lifting up old logs and sweeping about in ponds. While pond dipping is not cov-ered in this book, there are loads of ideas for attracting, catching and observing land inverte-brates. It shows that you don’t need expensive equip-ment, as all of the ideas in this book use household ob-jects or rubbish items that would otherwise be thrown away. I even learnt some tips and techniques myself! It is clear that the ideas in this book have been tried and tested, and the involvement with the Royal Entomologi-cal Society (and also the Field Studies Council) lends an additional air of authority to the book.
The first section gives ‘top tips from an expert’ which are useful to consider and discuss before going on a minibeast/invertebrate hunt – dress appropriately for the outdoors, walk and work quietly, clear up after yourself etc. – and lots of notes about caring for the animals that you find. (With young children, I often summarise this as having ‘sharp eyes and kind hands’.) There follows a short introduction to the main types of invertebrates, which contains some complex vocabulary (e.g. cephalothorax) in contrast to some of the other pages, but there is a simpler ‘Who’s Who?’ guide at the back, and a glossary.
The book goes on to outline equipment for catching invertebrates – starting with “eyes, ears and fingers” and going on to making spy pots, sweep nets and pooters. To be honest, I’m not really a fan of ‘pooting’ – equipment is awkward to keep clean and hygienic, es-pecially if they are being used by different children eve-ry day – but there are two relatively simple sets of in-structions for making a pooter, followed by a page of handy “points on pooting” (e.g. suck up gently rather than “blasting with breath”, don’t collect ants, as the
formic acid they produce will taste nasty). I would sug-gest that children make their own pooters that they can keep and use themselves.
The second section is all about making humane traps for different kinds of invertebrates. Innovative ideas that caught my eye included: hanging out old clothes and material to provide warm, dry shelters (I always find earwigs hiding in folds when I leave washing out overnight!); the “thigma trap”, which is essentially a bunch of hollow stems tied together that can be dis-mantled after s view weeks to view the occupants; an earwig shelter; and “moth punch”.
The final section – “The Zoo Zone” – focuses on longer-term study of particular invertebrates (snails, spiders, earwigs, worms, caterpillars, ladybirds, woodlice), in-cluding a great idea for making a mini nature reserve in a plastic plant propagator.
I would suggest that the activities should be carried out in small, supervised groups, as there is potential for easy squashing or suffocation of the invertebrates, as well as some safety issues for children. The layout is engaging, with captions and speech bubbles accompa-nying the clear, colourful illustrations. A super book for use by teachers and pupils in their school grounds, by families in the garden at home, or by environmental educators in outdoor settings (perhaps with a few practical adaptations).
Minibeast Magic. Roma Oxford, illustrated by Anna Sutton (2015). Royal Entomological Society. Paperback, pp61. ISBN 978-1-910159-00-2. £15.00. Available from royensoc.co.uk