Friday, March 09, 2007

Book Review: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

I recently picked up the much anticipated Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Kenn Kaufman and Eric Eaton. Since the book can't obviously show the 1000's of insects in the US and Canada, it aims to show all of the orders and families of insects and some of the more common species you might see. Each section gives a description of the order and then more detailed descriptions of each family within that order. The descriptions include general shape and physical characteristics, lifecycle information, food preferences, environmental impact, and the number of species that occur north of Mexico. Unlike the Peterson Field Guide to Insects, this guide does not provide a key for identifying a given insect to the family level. The individual species that they chose to highlight are described with some generic descriptions, usually including details on broad range, behavior, and feeding habits. Fun facts and tidbits are included when possible. While interesting to read, these descriptions don't give much in the way of identification. The identification aspect of this guide is left up to the photos. The photos are the bread and butter of this guide. They are crisp, gorgeous, and sufficiently sized for use. Similar to Kaufmann's other guides, a silhouette is printed on each page to act as a scale for size comparisons.

The biggest complaints that I've heard from others is the lack of distribution maps and definitive information on how to find different species. I can understand why the authors didn't include distribution maps. They wouldn't have added much value since this is not a true "field guide" in the sense of the term. As the authors mention several times, there are guides dedicated to the individual orders and families that can provide this information. As far as information about how to find some of the species, the authors mention things like "may come to lights at night" or "found in moist deciduous forests". Again, this information can be found elsewhere.

For someone interested in identifying their backyard insects or for someone looking to learn more about insects in general, this guide is sufficient. If you're interested in identifying every insect you find to the family-level, the Peterson guide is the way to go because it includes a key. Your best bet would be to use this guide as a supplement.


Mike Boone said...

I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the book as one of my photos is supposed to be in it.

Anyway, if anyone wants more info on US/Canadian insects, the place to go on the web is BugGuide. There are thousands of bug photos and lots of species-specific information. We are also building distribution maps from the data supplied with the photos.

Eric Eaton, the author of the Kaufman insect guide, is a regular contributor there. He is quite knowledgeable and helpful.

Patrick Belardo said...


Thanks for the comment. I second your recommendation on BugGuide. It's an awesome site and I've had some pics ID'd on there. I hope your pic made the book.

Cindy said...

hi Patrick, good write up on the guide! And thanks for stopping by my blog, good to know there's quite a few of us out there with that addiction (at least those of us who will admit it) :)