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.