Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Beetles of Eastern North America

Full disclosure: Dr. Arthur V. Evans is a good friend and colleague, but our relationship exerts no influence on my review of his work. I have come to expect great diligence, accuracy, and attention to detail in Art’s books and articles. Beetles of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press, 2014, $35.00 US) is no exception, and reflects Evans’ continued professionalism and enthusiasm for his subject of choice.

When I received my review copy of the book, I was a bit surprised to find that it was not a field guide, at least in terms of size. It is 10 x 8 inches and, despite being a paperback, weighs in at a hefty 4 pounds, assuming the bathroom scale is accurate. No worries, this only means that the images can be larger, and this is of great benefit to those of us with failing eyesight.

Inside the front cover is a pictured list of the “Ten Most Commonly Encountered Beetle Families,” with the page number for easy reference. The roster certainly touches on the most frequently noticed families, and is an excellent way for a beginner to address a “mystery beetle.”

Few entomologists are also skilled at writing for a general audience, but Evans makes it seem effortless. He has a real gift for simplifying concepts so that they are not intimidating to an amateur naturalist yet not condescending to veteran entomologists. The introductory section is as well-illustrated as the remainder of the book, and explains many puzzling physical features of beetles. The metamorphosis of beetles is covered in good detail, as well as some of the odd behaviors exhibited by various species.

Are you interested in making a beetle collection? How about observing and photographing beetles? Maybe you would like to rear beetles in captivity for yourself or your nature center, zoo, or museum. Information on all those pursuits is contained in this book.

An illustrated key to common beetle families sets off the bulk of the text and graphics that are geared toward identifying beetles at least to the family level, if not genus or species. All the characters used in the key are observable with either the naked eye or low magnification.

The book does treat all the families of beetles found east of the Mississippi River, and I was surprised to find some entirely new families have been erected, and others renamed. I won’t offer any spoilers, but suffice it to say that this book is the most up-to-date reference of its kind.

In this digital age of “images are everything,” Evans put equal emphasis on how specimens are presented. The results are mandible-dropping. Nearly all specimens depicted are live animals, shown in postures and often habitats that they are likely to be observed in. The list of photo credits read like a who’s who of entomologists and photographers I already know in person or online or both, and they all know how to bring out the best in their subjects.

Despite the regional scope of the book, I was delighted to identify a ground beetle I had recently collected in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Clearly, this volume is going to be useful to anyone living or traveling east of the Rocky Mountains.

The appendix covers the full classification of beetles from order to genus (with selected species). There is also a glossary of terms used, though as far as I can tell all terms are defined in the text when they are first used. Selected references and resources includes published material, online sources, and companies that provide equipment and supplies.

In short, this is the most compact, affordable, comprehensive, and useful beetle book to come along since I can’t remember when. I know that Art is eager to receive feedback from readers to learn about how he can make his books better still. The good news is that he is under contract to do a book on beetles of western North America next. Please be patient, though. It takes a great deal of time and effort to produce the results to which we’ve become accustomed.

2 comments:

  1. I've been thinking about ordering this book for a while - your review has encouraged me to change the thinking to action! Thanks for posting this.

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  2. sounds interesting; might be a future investment. I know how hard it is to write; although i love to write- it often takes me a long time to finish. I think though that my observation on the larder beetles i've decided to rear have sparked an idea; though like most of my stories- it will probably show up on my blog. I still look forward to writing it while i observe my ever growing herd. cant wait for generation two bacon beetles to emerge from the logs. :]

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