The secret life of  Flies is a very enjoyable read. McAlister shows her love of this group of insects and, through her chatty style, opens up a secret world to us.  Her factual information is punctuated with many anecdotes, often amusing, on the behaviour and role of detrivores and cophrages, necrophages and vegetarians, fungivores, predators and parasites, a chapter for each in the 10 chapter book.

McAllister points out that dipterists (people who study or collect flies) are fascinated by the genitalia and mating rituals of these insects so the book contains plenty of details on this. Some may not be suitable for younger pupils but will certainly amuse students in KS3 and 4 and their teachers.

The section on parasites includes the bee fly. Having seen one of these adorable-looking flies in my garden, with its long nectar-feeding proboscis, I assumed it was a pollinator but I have learned it is a parasite whose larvae eat those of solitary bees and wasps in their nests.

As a teaching aid this book provides excellent background information, explaining what a fly is, life cycle and habits of the different flies. The author avoids unnecessary jargon and explains words clearly for the non-specialist. For KS3 and beyond extracts or even the whole book can be read by students themselves.  The fascinating close up photos will certainly stimulate comments from students! For KS2, my favourite chapter is the section on pollinators, which includes bee-mimicking hoverflies.

Reviewed by Alona Sheridan


The Secret Life of Flies
Erica McAlister 2017
Published by London Natural History Museum, available from
ISBN 9780565094751 (pbk)

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