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Arthropod fauna of the UAE--Volume 2.

Arthropod fauna of the UAE--Volume 2. Edited by A. Van Harten. 2009. Dar Al Ummah Printing, Publishing, Distribution and Advertising, Abu Dhabi. ISBN 978-9948-15-090-9. 786 pp.


The UAE Insect Project was set up in 2004 following a remarkable and far-sighted initiative of H.H. Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan as an endeavour to study and record the total arthropod biodiversity of the United Arab Emirates. Dr. A. Van Harten was appointed to run the project and to collect specimens from around the country, sort and send them out to an impressive team of specialist experts from around the world to carry out scientific work on the collected material and finally to coordinate and edit the published results. Prior to the setting up of the Project, almost the only significant entomological work undertaken in the UAE was made by enthusiastic amateurs, many of whom were members of, or associated with, one of the three chapters of the ENHG. These individuals all held responsible and demanding full-time professional occupations and were able only to devote a little of their spare time to the country's entomological biodiversity. A majority of their studies were made in an era before the full blooming of information technology and, when published, information relevant to Arabian arthropods was very scarce indeed. Nevertheless, they achieved a lot and were able to set the study of UAE insects on track. Lamentably, their contributions do not always receive the recognition that they deserve.

From the onset, the UAE Insect Project encompassed a number of goals, two of the most obvious being the establishment of a reference collection of UAE arthropods to be housed and curated in-country (the UAE Insect Collection) and the publication of the scientific results of the Project. Both such objectives are already being realised successfully, especially the publication of the accounts of the different insects and other arthropods found in the UAE. These findings have now generated the first two hard-bound volumes of a series intended to cover all of the scientific results of the Project.

Following closely on the heels of the first volume published in 2008, Arthropod Fauna of the UAE--Volume 2 is of a similar size and format. It also mirrors the type of content seen in the earlier volume by providing an introduction and a series of contributions of varying length devoted either to whole orders, superfamilies or to families of arthropods. The introduction is concise since much of the material dealing with general collecting techniques and with the specific localities at which arthropods were captured is dealt with at length in the earlier volume. Nevertheless, the introduction does include a tabulated list of the orders and classes of arthropods so far collected in the UAE and an indication of those that have been published to date as well as a gazetteer of collecting localities and acknowledgements to all of the many contributors to the book. Sadly, two of the world-renowned specialists collaborating with the UAE Insect Project, the neuropterist Professor Herbert Hoelzel and the arachnidologist Dr. Michael Saaristo, passed away in 2008 before their studies were completed. Fittingly, the publication of Arthropod Fauna of the UAE--Volume 2 is dedicated to their memory.

The main part of this work is given over to accounts of two different orders within the Arachnida, a contribution on the Collembola (class Entognatha) and no less than 38 articles on different groups of insects. Some of the contributions are only modest in size and cover just a few or even a single species, such as the account of the fly family Oestridae. Others are extensive and cover such larger and important insect groups as the ground beetles (family Carabidae) and the owlet moths (superfamily Noctuoidea). In terms of numbers, a total of 390 species are added to the list of species known to occur in the UAE, of which 83 species and two sub-species are new to science.

Whatever the size of each individual contribution, careful attention has been made to give accurate collection records for every specimen of each species and in most cases to provide appropriate illustrations.These include detailed line drawings, paintings and, of course, black and white and coloured photographs/photomicrographs of individual structures and of habitus. In general, the quality of the images is first class, better even than that achieved in the first volume. Some, like the tinted drawings used to illustrate structures of midges (family Chironomidae) are simply superb. Whilst some contributions contain keys to enable identification of individual UAE species, this is not so for all taxa and, therefore, the illustrations are particularly important adjuncts to identification.

The different groups that are dealt with in detail include mites from the family Cunaxidae, pseudoscorpions (Pseudoscorpionides), springtails (Collembola), booklice (Psocoptera), earwigs (Dermaptera), beetles (Coleoptera) belonging to some 17 different families, including such important ones as the ground beetles (Carabidae), hide and carpet beetles (Dermestidae), blister beetles (Meloidae) and weevils (Curculionoidea). Several families of wasps (Hymenoptera) are covered as well as the paramountly important bee superfamily (Apoidea). This is followed by nine families of moths (Lepidoptera), including the species-rich owlet moths or Noctuidae (now considered to include the once separate families of tiger and tussock moths) and finally, but by no means least, some 12 families of true flies or Diptera. In some cases, the contributions in the present book are continuations of work already reported in the first volume and this is clearly indicated in their titles, as for example for the earth-measurer moths Geometridae.

As for the first volume, the detailed, accurate and well-illustrated taxonomical accounts found in the present volume make it a must-have book, not just for the professional entomologist, but also for many others including ecologists, naturalists, pest-control officers, environmentalists etc., both within the UAE and throughout Arabia and the Middle East. Nevertheless, this volume is not without its faults, some of which have already been raised with regard to the first volume (Howarth, 2007). Firstly there are a few small mistakes that come to light. For example, on pages 566 and 567, the same photograph is shown with captions for two different moths Utetheisa lotrix lepida (Rambur) and U. amhara (Jordan). Since the two species in question are so similar, it is hard for the non-specialist to be sure as to which moth is actually depicted. This is a shame, but it by no means undermines a simply wonderful and beautifully illustrated account of the noctuoid moths of the UAE. Another mistake, this time on page 187, deals with the chemical nature of the secretion of the beetles belonging to the family Meloidae and which gives rise to their common name of "oil" or "blister" beetles. It is quite wrong to call the chemical agent in question, cantharidin, an alkaloid; for alkaloids are nitrogen-containing plant chemicals not made by beetles or other animals. Cantharidin is actually a toxic sesquiterpenoid and does deserve accurate attention, as it is of fundamental biological importance for meloid beetles, their reproduction and their defence against predators. Cantharidin has also played a variety of dubious roles in human medicine.

These and other minor faults aside, however, there are several broader concerns, which in this reviewer's opinion detract a little not just from the practical usefulness of the volume, but which also raise questions about the completeness of the coverage implicit in the book's title and perhaps even about the style in which the work has been edited, particularly in relation to previous studies on the entomofauna of the UAE.

Firstly, it is customary practise in a work of this sort to list the synonyms for each species immediately below the currently recognised species name. This is lacking although it would make the book easier to use. This is particularly important where there have recently been wholesale changes in nomenclature affecting Arabian species. In the mylabrine oil beetles of the family Meloidae, there has long been confusion at the generic level surrounding many species found in Arabia. Some that were dealt with under the generic name Mylabris by Kasab (1983) and Schneider (1991) are now assigned to other genera such as Croscherichia and Hycleus. In the latter case the feminine generic name Mylabris has been replaced by a masculine one, thus also precipitating changes in the ending of the specific name. All of this is difficult to follow without the inclusion of a formal synonomy. There are other similar cases both within the Meloidae and in several of the other insect families.

The second concern has to do with the inclusivity of a work, the title of which implies that it covers all species of each arthropod group known from the UAE. Clearly there is no consistency here. For the noctuoid moths, Fibiger and Legrain treat all recorded species from the UAE, including some like Hypena obsitalis that were neither collected by Van Harten nor seen by themselves. On the other hand, Batelka and Geisthardt mention records of 26 species of Meloidae from the UAE as published by Bologna and Turco (2007), but in the current book, they deal only with the 21 species collected by Van Harten and themselves. Well-known UAE species such as Rhampholyssodes pitcheri Kaszab,1983 are ignored. Similar omissions occur within the ground beetles, where, for example, species such as the tiger beetles Hypaetha copulata emiratensis and Salpingofera helferi, known to belong to the UAE fauna, are missed out. This, in turn, raises further questions. If recently published records by well-known scientists can be ignored, then this is likely to be the case also for other sources of information that are pertinent to the entomofauna of the UAE. These include collections in well-known museums in London, Muscat, Oxford and Manchester, amongst others known to have important eastern Arabian material, as well as collections that are still in private hands and also the published records of the first amateur individuals to take an interest in the insects and arthropods of the UAE.

Another question might then be to ask exactly what is meant by the UAE. Is it just the small number of localities listed in the gazetteer that represents mainly Dubai, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates? Or does it not also include the extensive sandy deserts that make up so much, not just of Abu Dhabi, but also of the whole UAE? In the light of these limitations on often not using outside records and not covering all of the UAE territory, it might be more informative to give this book (and others in the series) the subtitle "Insects and Other Arthropods Collected by the UAE Insect Project 2004-2009".

There is inaccuracy and inconsistency too in the attribution of the label "First record for the UAE." I read through Volume 1 silently and merely noted that many locally-published first records both of Coleoptera, Lepidoptera and other orders had been usurped by contributions in the new work without explanation or justification. This time with Volume 2, I have tried, not always successfully, to steer clear of that path. I did see one such--lack of recognition of one of my own first UAE records, that of the moth Autographa gamma (Gillett, 1998). Presumably this was an oversight since my record of Ctenoplusia limbirena in the same publication was recognised. Other locally published records that are firsts for the UAE have, however, quietly been ignored and attributed to others as for the tiger beetles Megacephala (Grammognatha) euphratica and Lophyro histrio (Gillett, 1995, not Weisner, 1996). In many other cases, valid records are quietly submerged by referring not to any original work, but instead to Van Harten (2005), a publication which is merely a checklist of published records of species recorded for the UAE by others, together with the original references.

In summary, Arthropod Fauna of the UAE--Volume 2 contains some truly excellent contributions and overall, it will make a very useful addition to the literature on Arabian arthropods and is well worth getting. Nevertheless, it does suffer from a number of shortcomings including, in some cases, inadequate recognition of previous work, lack of a synonomy for each species, failure often to have studied UAE specimens in museums and other collections and an explanation as to why the geographical coverage does not include the whole national territory of the UAE, although the title would suggest that it does so.

Michael Gillett e-mail:


Bologna, MA and Turco, F (2007) The Meloidae (Coleoptera) of the United Arab Emirates with an updated Arabian checklist. Zootaxa 1625: 1-33.

Gillett, MPT (1995) An annotated and illustrated checklist of tiger beetles recorded from the Al Ain/Buraimi region of Eastern Arabia (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). Tribulus 5(2): 13-16.

Gillett, MPT (1998) The Silver Y moth Autographa gamma and Ctenoplusia limbirena, unexpected winter visitors to Al Ain. Tribulus 8(1): 30.

Howarth, B (2007) Arthropod Fauna of the UAE, Volume 1 (Book review). Tribulus 17: 105-106. (Actual year of publication, 2008)

Kaszab, Z (1983) Insects of Saudi Arabia Coleoptera: Fam. Meloidae. A synopsis of the Arabian Meloidae. Fauna of Saudi Arabia 5: 144-204.

Schneider, W (1991) New records of Meloidae (Insecta: Coleoptera) from Arabia with description of a new species. Fauna of Saudi Arabia 12: 273-288.

Van Harten, A. (2005) Insects of the UAE. A Checklist of Published Records. Multiply Marketing, Abu Dhabi. 86 pp.

Weisner, J, (1996) Weitere Mittleilungen uber die Cicindelidae (Coleoptera) der Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate. Entomologische Zeitschrift 106(9): 382-392.
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Author:Gillett, Michael
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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