Friday 5: My Field Guide Wish List

Moving across the country has been a big adventure and one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed so far.  However, there are some downsides.  The biggest one for me is that my western field guides are rather worthless in my new home.  The insects on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains are quite different compared to the insects from the other side.  That’s good.  It’s really fun seeing all the new things and I am enjoying learning about the local species.  However, it would be great to have field guides appropriate for this part of the country as I explore the local terrestrial insects, just to make field identifications of unfamiliar species a little easier.  So, I’ve created a wishlist of insect field guides that I want to buy over the next few months.   They include:

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast by Giff Beaton

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East was the one and only eastern field guide I purchased before I moved to North Carolina and I love it as much as I loved the corresponding book for the west.  However, I am a firm believer that I can never have too many dragonfly books!  We have this book at work and I really like it because it focuses entirely on the species of the southeast and leaves out the things you only find in Canada and New England.  I have several copies available for my use at work, but I think I need a copy for home too.  It will look awfully good with all the other dragonfly books on my shelf, and I’ve already found it useful.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David Wagner

I’ve wanted this book since it was first released, but there never seemed to be a point in actually buying it.  There will always be some species that cross the east-west boundary, but why would I need a book on eastern caterpillars in the west?  Well, now I live in the east and I suddenly have a use for this book.  Yay!  I can’t wait to get it!  I know next to nothing about caterpillar identification, but I’m working at a field station/outdoor education center.  People like to visit the garden and ask questions about the butterflies and I find myself needing to learn my caterpillars for the first time ever.  I think this book would be a great way to get started, so it’s at the very top of my wishlist.

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie

This book is tailored to the northeast rather than the southeast, but the moth people I’ve interacted with in North Carolina so far tell me that it’s still one of the best guides for local species.  North Carolina is an interesting place because it’s got an incredibly rich diversity of geologies and habitat types, so we get a nice mixture of northern and southern species here.  The northern moth book is supposed to be great for many of the moths here.  It just doesn’t cover the species that stretch up into North Carolina from the south.  Maybe someone will eventually write a companion book for the southeast?

Field Guide to Freshwater Invertebrates of North America by James Thorp and Christopher Rogers

This book isn’t geared toward the eastern US specifically, but it’s one I haven’t had a chance to purchase yet and am really excited about getting.  I’ve flipped through it a few times and it’s a great book.  It’s simple enough that I think it is an excellent guide for people just starting to learn about freshwater insects, crustaceans, worms, and other invertebrates.  However, it’s got enough detail that I feel like it has some meat to it too.  Most other aquatic invertebrate fields guides out there are either quite old and outdated or not detailed enough for my taste, so this book is a welcome future addition to my library.

National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur Evans and Craig Tufts

An all-purpose insect field guide can come in really handy now and again.  I have a few general guides already, but I’m always on the lookout for more.  This is the one I want the most.  I really like the way Art Evans writes and he is incredibly knowledgeable about insects, so I trust that the information in this book is good.  The people I know who have it all seem to like it too, which I consider a good sign.  This book combines lovely photos and great information, so what’s not to love?  And just look at the mantid on the cover!  I fully intend to judge this book by its cover.  :)

That’s about half of my wishlist so far.  Does anyone want to recommend any other insect books with a southeastern US focus?  A lot of you probably know more about the great field guides in this part of the country than I do, so I welcome any suggestions!  Leave your recommendations in the comments below.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

20 thoughts on “Friday 5: My Field Guide Wish List

  1. Wagner’s caterpillar guide is amazing. I’m waiting for his Owlet Caterpillar guide to come in the mail, as well as the Peterson Moth guide. I’m a fan of the Kaufmann guides as well, and reach for my copy of Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America often.

    • I have – and love – the Kaufmann insect guide. It’s great! And I’d like to get the owlet caterpillar book too. Just didn’t think I should put two Wagner caterpillar books on the list! They’re really excellent books and I can’t wait to get them!

  2. I am going to have to check some of these out. I have started shooting flowers and bugs with one of my friends and keep coming back to dragonflies ( just posted a photo of a Halloween pennant dragonfly, in fact). I have real trouble, though, trying to distinguish between different types of insects, flowers, birds, etc. I try to use on-line resources but it may be good to have some hard-copy guides too. Thanks for sharing your list.

    • I really enjoy having the field guides with me out in the field when I’m in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar species. It’s great to be able to look them up right there while you can look at the characteristics rather than trying to remember them later. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (or West, depending on where you live) is an excellent field guide and includes every species of dragonfly and damselfly in the region. Well worth the money as far as I’m concerned!

      • I live in the Washington DC area so the Eastern variety would be the one. It doesn’t take much to excite me. I was thrilled yesterday to photograph my first Halloween Pennant dragonfly. :)

        • I have only a handful of very poor shots of Halloween pennants so far, but I hope to rectify that situation! I actually live in a place where they’re native now, so I can do something better than taking hurried vacation shots of dragonflies that are too far away with cameras that aren’t up to the task. :)

          It makes me very happy to hear you say that you were thrilled to see your pennant. I was too the first time I saw one! They’re gorgeous, so how could you NOT get excited?

          • One quick question. For a total neophyte, do you think it would be better for me to get the guide for dragon and damsel flies that covers the whole east or the one you mentioned that covers the Southeast? (I suspect that Virginia. where I live, includes many of the ones in the Southeast guide) The reviews of the books make them both seem like great choices.

            • Hmm… The damselfly book by Ed Lam is fantastic for your part of the country and I would recommend that for damselflies. I’d get D&Ds of the East over the book for Georgia though. It’s not going to be super easy to use until you get a little used to it, but it’s going to have everything in your state while the Georgia book will have a lot of the extreme southeastern species that won’t make it as far north as you and will be missing the northern species. I also like Dragonflies Through Binoculars. It’s easier to use for beginners, though it covers the whole country and doesn’t include the damselflies like Paulson’s book does.

    • I should have put that one on my list! I’ve got a copy at work, the extra copy that was taking up space on the communal office bookshelf, but I need one for home too. It’s a great book!

      • I do! Two copies in fact (one for work, one for home) and I use both often. In fact, my work copy is sitting not 12 inches from me as I type this. That’s a good indication of how well-loved it is. :)

        • I have got to get me a copy. After sitting down to start reading Mariposa Road today, I decided that a “butterfly Big Year” is way too excessive, but a life list including all the species in NA + Hawaii seems just right. Both the East and West guides will be invaluable.

          Also, maybe your expertise gives you an in on this: Do you have any idea when the revised Dragonflies of North America might be coming out? Been waiting for years!

          • I keep hearing rumblings about a new Dragonflies book, but I’ll believe it when I see it! There was a very long time between the current edition and the previous, so I’d bet it’s going to be a while… I’ll let you know if I hear anything more certain about it though.

  3. Of the five listed, I only have the Beaton book. It is, indeed, a Keeper. You guys are right about Dennis’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East. It’s my VERY favorite.
    If you don’t have Ed Lam’s Damselflies of the Northeast, you really NEED that book!!

    • That is high on my list too, though I didn’t want to put TWO ode books on my list. I know I said I could never have enough dragonfly books and that’s true. However, I don’t want to overwhelm everyone else with my obsession. :)

  4. Insects,Their Natural History and Diversity by Stephen A Marshall. It is a large book and definitely not a field guide, but as a reference book with lots of photos it is indispensable. The sub-title is “With a photographic guide to the insects of eastern North America” which gives you a better idea of its value.

  5. Pingback: The Weekly Flypaper » Biodiversity in Focus Blog

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