Messages from Psyche

Philip Howse

Butterflies: Messages from Psyche explores the phenomena of visual perception, illusion and reality, unveiling how insects employ colour and pattern to deceive and confuse their predators.

192 pages


ISBN: 978-1-901092-80-6


IPPY Bronze Medal 2011 – Ecology

Subject: Nature

Philip Howse explains how these living tapestries have been designed by evolution to protect insects from their principal predators, which include birds, lizards, monkeys. These insectivores, it is argued, detect their prey by perceiving small details of shape and colour rather than the ‘whole picture’ of the insect. If we look at the detail of a living butterfly in the way that a bird sees it from many different angles and perspectives, surprising images reveal themselves. There are features of owl eyes, snake heads, caterpillars, lizards, wasps, scorpions, birds’ beaks and feathers to be found there. Many butterflies and moths have bizarre combinations of images on their wings and bodies which prompt comparison with the works of art of the surrealists, such as Magritte and Dali. They have a similar effect: to unsettle the way in which things are normally perceived: to confuse and shock. Many of the signs and symbols also resonate within the human psyche, surfacing in our art, architecture, stories and legends.

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Philip Howse

Philip Howse has published books and research articles on insect behaviour and ecology. He has developed environ-mentally-friendly methods for the control of insect pests, recognised by a number of awards including the OBE. After a career spent mainly at Southampton University, he has now retired but continues writing about the insects that have fascinated him since childhood.

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"The visually most exciting book of the year … Howse has put together a teasing and brilliant treat; a piece of work that is designed to dazzle and boggle and bewilder"
Simon Barnes, The Times

"The most fascinating butterfly book I've ever come across"
Michael McCarthy, The Independent