I became fascinated with insects (and related species) when I got a macro lens. Suddenly, a new world opened up. I started to notice species that I’d never given any attention to before. I wanted to learn about this new world.
I initially picked up Backyard Insect; a book that I would still recommend as the ideal introduction to Australian insects. There came a point where I wanted to expand my knowledge base.
Enter Insects of South-Eastern Australia. The book is described as a regional insect identification field guide based on feeding category and host plant. It is also an introduction to the insects of the region, including their environment, classification, life history, feeding strategies and behaviour.
In this review, I’ll explore who this book is for and how it compares to similar books on the market.
How does it stand out?
Most other introductory books about insects focus on the species that you can find in your backyard garden. They are designed to be accessible to newbies and to encourage readers to observe the common species in their neighbourhood. It can be a big step from those books to your standard field guide. Insects of South-Eastern Australia is a useful in-between book. It provides an introduction to taking an ecological and behavioural approach to identification and then organizes species according to their feeding strategies.
This is very useful, as it encourages you to look beyond the basic appearance when making the observations. Readers are encouraged to seek out identifications according to whether an insect is a plant feeder, predator, parasitoid or decomposer. This requires a bit more work but the skills are useful with other nature observations.
Does it have any flaws?
Part 1 was information overload.
There were 10 sections in part 1, covering the basics of insect classification and their behaviour. Some of these chapters were so brief that it is almost worth skipping over.
For example, the Defining an Insect chapter had a very poor graphic that showed you the different parts of an insect. The 1 paragraph dedicated to defining an insect is a complete letdown; it is too technical and hard to visualize. It was still useful for the picture examples of species that shouldn’t be confused with insects. The chapter about types of environments only had one brief paragraph to describe each type. It would have been better off skipping this chapter altogether.
This was a repeated theme and one that was frustrating. I can understand the limitations, as the book was already dense at 261 pages. It left me wanting more.
The layout was disorganized
One key frustration was that the layout felt disjointed and interrupted the reading. This was especially noticeable in the first half, where paragraphs were frequently interruption with pictures and their captions. This made for frustrating reading. This was less of a problem once I got past the introductory chapters.
Another issue was the lack of subheadings. This made the book difficult to skim. The information boxes attempted to remedy this, and they were easier to ready. Their presence often felt like an interruption though which took me away from the rest of the chapter.
Do I recommend it?
Yes… and no.
This book is recommended for those who are advanced beginners. I would recommend it for those who have bought Backyard Insects and find that it no longer suits their needs. It takes more of an educational approach; instead of flipping through it, it forces you to think about the insect in relation to its environment. However while it is jam packed full of information, you have to work for it. The layout issues and potential information overwhelm can be a put off.
I would recommend it for advanced beginners; those who have bought Backyard Insects and find that it no longer suits their needs. The information is disorganized but you can flick through the book and refer to it later as your knowledge increases. This is especially worth it when reading the hidden tidbits in the captions.
Keep in mind that it not a good book if you are just seeking an identification; although there are plenty of pictures. More for those who know they want to learn more about insects but don’t know where to start.