Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Book Review - Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects of North America

book cover for Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects of North AmericaWhen my son was little, he developed a curiosity about bugs. He'd ask me what a particular one was, but most of the time I didn't know. We'd then try to look them up on the internet ( is a good source). So one Christmas, his mom got us this book.

It's a great introduction to the world of insects (and select arthropods often misidentified as "bugs"). It's broken down by class and order with color photos and relative sizes of select species that are either common or of notable interest. After a general introduction about the particular group on a page, there's often another paragraph about a sub-group followed by a sentence or two about featured species or genera, typically the pictured individuals.

And so this has fueled our continuous drive to identify every insect we observe in our yard.

Who's that butterfly that keeps landing on Alex? Red Admiral

Do I need to worry about this beetle? No, it only eats decaying wood.

Is this bee going to sting me? No, it's just a yellowjacket that smelled the sugar in your drink. Don't kill it because it eats the bugs that eat our crops.

These ladybugs have different spots. That's because they're different species.

Dragonflies, damselflies, katydids, fireflies, soldier beetles, paper wasps, weevils, stink bugs, owlet moths, robber flies, ants, butterflies, and bumble bees. On and on.

One of the most useful features of the book is learning who's a pest and who's an ally. The pest identification part is obviously important, but even more so the ally. While I knew that ladybugs were awesome, they didn't have any biting or stinging parts to worry about. And they're cute. Insects that we were taught in our childhood to fear for their nasty stingers are actually our allies (wasps, hornets), too. I even let some paper wasps build a nest under my deck one year because of what I learned here. Spoiler alert: No one got stung.

Even at just shy of 400 pages, there are limits to what this book can cover as there are nearly a hundred thousand species of insects in North America alone (11,000 moths; 16,000 flies; 24,000 beetles, and so on). As such, sometimes we were left wanting more information on either a bug we'd found or clarity on a particular type of beetle. But I guess that's where the internet comes in handy.

Definitely recommended for those wanting to get to know more about whom they share their yard with.


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