Book Review – Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America
Win a copy of Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America - see contest details below.

National Wildlife Federation
Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Arthur V. Evans
Sterling Publishing Company
497 pages

I’ve been waiting for a rainy evening to review a copy of Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur V. Evans that I requested from the National Wildlife Federation early in the year. I must admit that I’ve been reluctant to officially review this book because I’ve enjoyed using it so much! But being housebound on a rainy night has provided the venue and incentive to finally get around to the pleasant task of reviewing this excellent resource book.

Everything about Evan’s book makes it work well as a field guide. There is a fold out quick “how to use this book” flap on the inner cover. Flipping this flap open reveals detailed diagrams showing the body parts of a beetle, true bug, mantid, caterpillar, butterfly, spider, and insect with additional diagrams showing details of heads and legs.

The logical organization continues with the table of contents in which the organisms are grouped according to order. A photograph of a typical species of each order is an excellent starting point and helps to quickly narrow down the identification of an insect or spider.

Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America contains over 1,600 photographs and covers 940 of the over 100,000 species of insects, spiders and their kin. In comparison, the other “standard” insect and spider guide, National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders covers 550 species of insects and 60 species of spiders. In terms of coverage, the National Wildlife Federation guide has greater breadth and addresses other commonly seen arthropods like centipedes, millipedes, brine shrimp, sow bugs, and pill bugs. Species included in this guide were chosen because they were either easy to see and identify or they were widely distributed. Both native and exotic insects are included in the guide.

One of the features that I love about this (and other) National Wildlife Federation guides is the comprehensive overview sections. The introduction outlines the roles that insects play in pollination, recycling nutrients, and in pest control. There is a good overview of what makes an insect an insect that makes for fascinating reading and should inspire non-insect lovers to take a second look. Different types of lifecycles are clearly described in terms that the layperson can easily understand using specific examples. The physical structure of spiders is also explained in similar detail. A paragraph synopsis of each order is provided in which the scientific name and characteristics of the order is described. Finally, three other sections provide a comprehensive overview of the natural history of insects, spiders and their kin, conservation issues, and tips on how, when and where to find them.

The main part of the book focuses on how to identify species in the different orders. Each order begins with a one page or longer introduction to the group including features that are useful for identification, a natural history overview, habitat and food preferences, and typical activity period. Each of these sections has a specific colour code and is marked by a coloured band at the top of the page with both the common and scientific name of the order. In contrast, the order accounts in the National Audubon Society book are much less detailed.

Evan’s individual species accounts are fairly short and concise. The common name and scientific name of the organism are given as well as its measurement (in both metric and imperial), wingspan, and range. A short single paragraph description of characteristics that can be used to identify the specie, habitat, and food sources rounds out each account. At least one photograph accompanies the text, two are usually included if the female looks different from the male.

In terms of a tool for identifying insects, spiders and their kin, this National Wildlife Federation book seems better organized and easier to use than the older National Audubon Society guide. While the latter’s longer species accounts are more detailed I’ve always found that the separation of photographs and text unwieldy. The image quality in the National Wildlife Federation book is definitely superior and I like the fact that both male and female insects are usually shown. While this field guide can’t compete with specific regional guides like the Butterflies of BC and Dragonflies of BC and the Yukon it gives a very comprehensive overview of most of the organisms you’re likely to see.

Following the species accounts there are four additional sections that provide “how to” guidelines for collecting and preserving insects, raising insects in captivity, designing gardens to attract insects, and macro photography.

Overall, Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur V. Evans is a splendid reference book and field guide. It is well organized and beautifully illustrated. In addition to the species accounts there is a wealth of interesting reading about insects, spiders and other arthropods. If you’ve encountered a strange insect in your backyard you are likely to find it in this guide.

Additional reviews of this book can be found at:


The book reviewed was provided by National Wildlife Federation at my request. I am not being paid to write this review and am happy to pass my copy on to a naturalist or insect enthusiast who needs it.

Win the Book!

This is definitely a book that I’m reluctant to give away! However, if you’re interested in receiving a copy of this book leave a comment below explaining why you think you might deserve it. I’ll choose a single winner at random in a month’s time and ship you my review copy. Then I’ll head down to my local bookstore or the National Wildlife Federation web site to purchase a copy for myself! Contest closes midnight July 8, 2010. The winner will be notified on July 10, 2010.


  1. Now you really have given me the incentive to comment. I am always on the look out for a good insect ID book that can be used by someone that does not have any particular expertise in entomology. It would be great addition to my rather modest library and I am sure that some of my students would love to use it when they first start trying to ID insects, rather than the dull, black and white and somewhat difficult key that they will have to use for their insect collections.

  2. Hi Dave,

    I don’t know if I deserve it, but I would dearly love a copy of the insect field guide.

    I have been curious about bugs of all sorts all my life. My dad essential forbid us from being afraid of spiders, and since that made sense, we weren’t. Whenever we hiked we carried a pack of field guides with us: one on birds, one on plants, and on reptiles and amphibians. No insect one, though.

    One of my favourite childhood memories is watching the life cycle of a monarch butterfly unfold in our backyard–the chrysalis was a beautiful pearlized green with a gold dot. My mum has a picture in an album somewhere of me trying to revive a butterfly with a teaspoon of sugar water after it had fallen in the dishwater when we were camping.

    I am as interested in identifying insects as I am in identifying plants. When we were in Namibia, a major thrill was finding a tok tokkie beetle (the ones that do a headstand to trap moisture from morning fog). When we took possession our new house one of the first things I moved was the mason bee house. I wasn’t sure the new owners of our current home would take car of them. For practical reasons, I would love a book to help me be a better gardener as I prefer to hand pick the bugs that chew my food before I do. I would like to be sure I am not bringing about bad karma by dispatching the helpers.

    I try hard to encourage my students (10-12 year olds) to respect and be curious about insects. We read aloud Jocie’s wonderful piece on millipedes, and went looking for them in the Lazo Woods. Next year I hope to focus a larger part of our diversity of life unit on arthropods as the mammals, birds, and reptiles already have such good PR.

    You make a wonderful case for this field guide and even if I don’t win it I will get my hands on a copy of it somehow.

  3. You must give it to me .. Because I want it and don’t deserve it.. Hee hee . Well, I do like bugs and would like to learn more about them.. Is there an app for that?

    Anyway .. Great book review. Might just have to go out and grab a copy.. That is if I don’t win one;)

  4. Excellent review of the book! I’m happy to see an insect field guide is getting such glowing praise.

    I’d love to have the book, though I’m not sure how you determine how a person “deserves” to have it. Let me tell you how I would use it and you can determine whether I’m worthy.

    I am an aquatic entomologist and all entomologists appreciate the amazing work of the author of this book. I’ve been a long time admirer of Evan’s books and it would be fantastic addition to my collection of his books – I don’t have this book yet. It keeps getting knocked down the list in favor of the books I really have to have as I complete my Ph.D.

    I would also love to have it for a couple of other reasons. First, I have a second job in an aquatic ecology lab. My coworkers and I go out on a boat on a lake in Tucson, AZ once a week to collect water samples. This is a terrible, terrible job for the most part because the park is in a not so great part of town, there are all kinds of grouchy people there that yell at us, there are drug addicts and other unsavory people, and the work involves a lot of hard physical labor. Sometimes all of this happens when it’s 110 degrees in the shade. The one thing that makes the job bearable is the wildlife we see at the lake. We’ve managed to document several unique biological events at the lake and we’re constantly on the lookout for things that we haven’t seen before. To assist in our observations, we’ve developed a naturalist’s pack that we often take on the boat with us to ID the things none of us (an entomologist, an ichthyologist, and a limnologist) can readily identify. We do not have a good, easy to use field guide to the insects and this book would be a fantastic addition to the pack.

    The other reason I would love to have the book is to take it to outreach events. I think insects are very important and I try to spread my joy to other people as often as I can. I do a lot of outreach activities for both adults and children that focus on the importance of insects, especially aquatic insects, in the environment. I am, however, not very well versed in the terrestrial insects. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get a whole lot of questions about them every time I’m out doing an event. Having a good field guide available (and I sadly only have the outdated Peterson field guide) would make figuring out which insect a person is asking about a lot easier and would reduce the number of times I have to say “I’m not sure” when asked about terrestrial insects at my events. Plus, people just like to flip through my books and see what’s out there. Books with good pictures in them help people get excited about insects and encourage them to either identify things they’ve seen in the past or go out and look for new things that they didn’t know about before.

    And like everyone else, I’m intending to buy the field guide if I don’t win it. I have a pitifully small number of field guides for an entomologist and it’s time to improve my collection.

  5. Thanks for the comments so far folks – I wish I had more copies to give out! Keep in mind that this book is actually fairly reasonably priced new on I’ve seen it for $16.00 Canadian and I’m sure that the US price at is probably pretty good too. Keep your fingers crossed, July 8 is coming soon! The winner will be picked in a random draw.

  6. Would be a great resource to have, always find myself wondering what kind of insect I have found.

  7. I’ve been layed off for a year and a half and have read every birding book I can get my hands on to occupy my mind and love of nature. This seems like a great oppurtunity to expand and learn about the creatures underfoot. They play a crucial part in the balance of the world and while birding I see a lot of insects that I have no idea what they are, with this book I could learn about bugs while birding. Thank you.

  8. I would love to have that field guide. I live in a small patch of woods with a creek running behind it.When we first moved out here from Dallas, the wall of trees around our house was just that: trees. I’ve learned a lot since then, thanks to a great field guide. The “wall” is now more than just a single entity. It’s the black walnut, pecan, southern prickly ash, and Texas saphora.

    I’m amazed every day at the variety of insects and their kin that crawl, scuttle, fly, scurry, squirm, and stalk around everywhere. having a proper name for them brings me closer to them in a way, almost like the belief in some cultures that knowing someone’s true name opens them up to you.

  9. Ooops, I have missed it 🙂 But still want to give an example of my bugophilia :))) Two weeks ago I was with 24 kids (between 11-16 ages) at Strandja Mountains for a camp near Buşgaria border. Almost all of them had fear for insects, two even had arachnophobia!!! So each time I talk about or show an insect they were screaming. After 6 days when we were doing a collage on the nature camp (which of course was not all about insects) most of them drew and wrote about their excitement about blue ground beetle, fantastic damselflies flew over us, ladybugs in pupae, beautiful butterflies dancing above the grassland, blue mint bug, fantastic weevils. We even build an insect museum from the dead insects we have found over 6 days, looked at them through a microscope. Besides our program with children I was kindly companied by local nature expert every morning, woke up a bit earlier then kids and search for fantastic insects! Will share some of the in the coming weeks via my blog. So, now 24 young people also contaiged by my insectophilia :)))

  10. I’d love to have it for my kids. They deserve it. They grab every guide I have and read it over their breakfast cereal. The other day my son said “Dad, come quick, I found a western blood-red ladybird beetle!” He’s five. Is that cool or what?

  11. Pingback: Dave Ingram's Natural History Blog :: Lunch with Tiger Beetle

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