Friday 5: Aquatic Insects, In Print!

You all know how much I love aquatic insects.  If you’ve been following my Friday 5 posts then you also know how much I love books.  It thus seems only proper that I do a Friday 5 about non-dragonfly aquatic insect books!  If you want to learn about and/or identify the aquatic insects in your area, I recommend one of my 5 favorite aquatic insect books.  In no particular order, they are:

Voshell bookA Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America by J. Reese Voshell Jr.

This is a nice little field guide type book that covers a broad range of aquatic insects and their relatives throughout the U.S.  The book is VERY general, so you’ll only be able to identify any invertebrates you see in the water down to family at best.  The book is also more expensive than I feel it should be.  Still, it provides a great overview of aquatic insects.  If you’re a beginner, or just want to look at some really nice aquatic insect drawings, this is a great book to have in your collection!  Personally, I most often use it to show people generalized pictures of aquatic insects when I teach or do outreach events.  You know, when someone asks something like, “This one time I saw this little brown bug looking thing swimming in the water.  What was it?”  Invaluable for that sort of thing!

Speaking of great aquatic insect drawings:

Aquatic Entomology by W. Patrick McCafferty

This book has the best aquatic insects drawings I’ve ever seen.  It’s a little old at this point (the version currently available is a reprint of the original 1981 version), but the drawings – oh, the drawings!  They make having this rather out-of-date book entirely worth owning!  The book also contains something very special: visual keys.  They’re in standard dichotomous key format (you start at the top with two choices, choose the one that best fits your specimen, rinse and repeat until you’re delivered to a name for your bug), but there are pictures imbedded within the couplets so you have a lovely picture to go along with nearly every option.  They are unbelievably easy to use! A few of the families included in the keys have undergone name changes since the book was released, but it’s still an incredible resource.  If you’ve never identified insects with a key, these are a fantastic way to get started!  And did I mention the drawings?  :)

Now, if you REALLY want to identify an aquatic insect in North America, this is THE book to use:

An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America by R. W. Merritt, K. W. Cummins, and M. O. Berg

Ah, Merritt and Cummins (and now Berg).  What would aquatic entomologists do without you?  This is a monster of a reference book and contains well-illustrated dichotomous keys for the orders, families, AND genera of nearly every aquatic insect in North America.  1200+ spiral bound pages of aquatic insect goodness!  It’s not perfect and there are things that I would like to see improved, but every aquatic entomologist should have a copy.  I’ve got 3!  I use it at least once a week too.  If you’re not an aquatic entomologist but are serious about identifying aquatic insects, this is the book to get.  The keys are good, the reference section is amazing, and there are several chapters of general information at the beginning that are really excellent.  Plus, it comes with a great CD-based visual key to the orders to get you started.  This is probably the book I’ve spent the most time with of any book I own – and I’ve read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Good Omens more times than I can count!

Biological Atlas of Aquatic Insects by W. Wichard, W. Arens, and G. Eisenbeis

This book is essentially a catalog of scanning electron microscope images of the biologically important structures of many aquatic insects.  Ever wonder what a mayfly gill looks like up close?  Or what the area between the two halves of the whirligig beetle eye looks like?  This is the ultimate book for answering any burning questions of this sort you might have!  It’s not cheap (about $90 on Amazon), but it’s an amazing resource and well worth considering if you have the means to do so.  I’ve looked through it a hundred times and I  discover something new every time!  Love it.

And finally…

Caddisflies: The Underwater Architects by Glen B. Wiggins

I considered putting 5 general aquatic insects on this list, but I just can’t pass this one up!  Caddisflies are amazing, and this book WILL make you appreciate their beauty and amazing diversity.  Like Merritt, Cummins, and Berg, this probably isn’t the sort of book you buy unless you’re an aquatic entomologist, but that’s a shame.  It’s amazing!  It includes keys (admittedly, a little outdated) to family and genus, detailed distribution information, and fantastic illustrations.  Each genus get a page of text and a page of images, including the whole larva, their case/net (where applicable), and several structures of importance in identification.  But the book is so darned pretty that it’s fun to just flip through the pages and marvel at how wonderful nature really is.  Caddisflies are so cool!  And this book will make you fall in love with them.

There are so many books in the world that these are just a handful of the total books available about aquatic insects.  I’ve got lots more, but I really love these!  Most of the books I’ve featured today are more academic than my usual Friday 5 book lists, but I think they all have something to offer to non-entomologists too: pretty pictures, information that non-entomologists might actually care about, and assistance identifying the aquatic insects in your area.  Might want to try before you buy these books as they tend to be a little spendy, but they’re all excellent books and worth a look.  Check ’em out!


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6 thoughts on “Friday 5: Aquatic Insects, In Print!

  1. I just got an awesome book:
    by Hugh Raffles
    “Insectopedia is one of the most remarkable books I have read in a long time. Like its subject, it is many things, all of them fascinating. First, it is a reference book of the first order: it is loaded with facts–some profound, others curious, and still others laugh-out-loud funny. Insectopedia is also part personal memoir, scientific detective story, and even cultural study. We travel the Amazon, visit Chernobyl, and enter laboratories and sidewalk cafes in search of insects and the ideas and cultures they inspire. Insects stir eerie fascination: they are beautiful, disgusting, important, and annoying. To some they are tasty. To others they are a source of sexual fetish. Who knew? In Raffles’s hands insects become windows into our culture, science, health–even our psyche. In each page of Insectopedia, the more we learn of insects, the more we come to face–and sometimes even challenge–our own views of the world.”

  2. I have one called “Stream Insects of the Pacific Northwest” by Patrick Edwards. The unique thing about this one, is that it was created for use with middle-school students doing streamside identification of common aquatic insects. What helps is that the key is based on visually identifiable characteristics of live insects. Instead of drawings, there are photographs of the insects in ice-cube trays, which is where the students are viewing them. My dream is to see books like this created for several areas. *polite cough towards dragonfly woman* ;P

    P.S. My giant water beetle is doing fine. He loves the mealworms and performed beautifully for an outreach event I decided to take him to. Hubby still wants him “set free”, but I love having him around, although I did pale a little when you said he would develop wings…

  3. I love Aquatic Entomology by W. Patrick McCaffert, too.

    Based on your recommendation, I requested a copy of Biological Atlas of Aquatic Insects through interlibrary loan and it just came in today. Amazing images!

    Thanks for the work you put into the blog!

    • I’m glad you like the Biological Atlas! I think it’s a really fabulous book. And I’m also glad you like the blog. It’s a ton of fun to write, so it’s always nice to know that people get something out of it.

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