I love trying to identify the insects in my backyard, but it can be tricky. There are a lot of great entomology books available, but very few targeted at the complete newbie.
A Naturalist’s Guide To The Insects Of Australia is one of just two books available targeted at beginners. It’s an identification guide that features 292 species of insect that are reasonably common in Australia. The simplicity makes it easier to try and figure out what species you have seen.
How Is It Structured?
Like other guides in the series, most of the book is dedicated to the species profiles. The species are grouped according to the insect type, which is listed at the top of the page. In some cases, these are broad (such as stick insects.) In other cases, the description is narrowed down further (narrow-winged damselflies.)
I found this approach to be a lot more beginner-friendly than other guides. Miniature Lives required users to pay more attention to morphological features and habitat. Insects of South-Eastern Australia asks readers to observe how the insect interacts with the environment. These are essential skills, but can initially be overwhelming.
There is a broad diversity of species covered. This includes eight mantids, four waterbugs, 11 ants, nine wasps, three types of leaf beetle and 15 cockroaches. I was impressed with the section on beetles as it featured a lot of species I’d found locally.
The introductory content is brief at just seven pages. Five pages are dedicated to providing an overview of insect families. The brevity and small text made it hard to visualize. I much preferred the version in Miniature Lives.
I tend to judge a field guide by how useful the species profiles are. I’m a beginner, so the profiles must be easy to understand.
The profiles are of good quality, considering the space limitations. There are no spaces between different sections of the profile; however, this is common in guides that contain a lot of species. The lack of white space does make it harder to flick through.
The profiles contain a physical description of the species and information about their distribution, habitat and habits. The physical description is often pretty vague. The profiles describe what a specimen looks like but doesn’t explain how to be sure of the identification. This makes sense for a beginners guide but also has the potential for misidentification. The habitats and habits section is pretty comprehensive. The habits discuss feeding, egg-laying and defensive behaviour. I was able to learn a lot from this section, and it is great if you are just flipping through the guide.
Most of the pictures in the guide are clear, and it is easy to see the key features. Occasionally, some parts of the image are out of focus or the image is too dark. In these cases, you’ll likely need to seek out additional images to confirm. Due to the small size of the book, it can also be difficult to get a good view of the key features.
In most cases, you get one photo per species but occasionally you get two. For some moth or butterfly species, you only get pictures of the caterpillar (such as the painted cup moth or uraba lugens). This is very much appreciated, as both are species I sought help with identifying when I first started.
Do I recommend it?
I would recommend it for beginners as long as you are aware of the limitations. Backyard Insects is of a higher standard and is easier to read, but it doesn’t have the same diversity of species as this guide.
I don’t believe the format is enough for insect identification; however, the beginner can still learn a lot. It depends on how much you are trying to learn and just how much work you are willing to do yourself. I would recommend it to the person who likes to browse to find an image before doing additional research.