Book review: Dominican Amber Spiders: A comparative palaeontological-neontological approach to identification, faunistics, ecology and biogeography, by David Penney

Jon Trevelyan (UK)

Dr David Penney, founder and owner of the excellent Siri Scientific Press (whose books I have frequently reviewed in this magazine), has writen about Miocene spider inclusions in amber from deposits of the Dominican Republic.

This is one of the many books on fossil spiders and insects that Siri Scientific Press publishes. You might think from its subtitle (“A comparative palaeontological-neontological approach to identification, faunistics, ecology and biogeography”) that its content is rather academic. Well, it is (and this book will undoubtedly be a leading reference work for quite a while) but it is still highly readable and enjoyable. And the text, and 300 or so illustrations and full colour photographs, will undoubtedly provide fascinating reading and the potential to identify specimens from Hispaniola, should the reader ever be lucky enough to be in that position (and there are plenty of amateur collectors and spider enthusiasts in the world today).

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this book is the way the author combines and compares information derived from both fossil and living spiders, so the reader can relate what they know (for example, from seeing extant spiders) to the remarkably preserved spiders illustrated in this book. In this away, he provides a fairly comprehensive guide to what is known about amber spider fossils from the Dominican Republic. This includes chapters covering the age of Dominican amber, and its geological origins, chemistry and botanical source, together with how it is mined, prepared and distributed. It also contains an extensive bibliography for those persons who want to take the subject further.

Dr David Penney has had a lifelong interest in spiders, with 25 years of experience working with amber fossils. He is also regarded as a leading world expert on fossil spiders preserved in amber, with research interests focussing on extant and fossil spiders, and insects.

Dominican Amber Spiders: A comparative palaeontological-neontological approach to identification, faunistics, ecology and biogeography by David Penney, Siri Scientific Press, Manchester (2008). 175 pp., softback, ISBN: 978-0-9558636-0-8

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