Book review: "Garden Insects of North America"

Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw (Princeton University Press, 656 pages, $29.95)
by Susan Mulvihill

I've been searching a long time for a good reference book on insects and think I've finally found it. Even though "Garden Insects of North America" has been around for a few years, it's a great resource for insect ID.

Chapter One covers insect classifications, information about metamorphosis, hexapod orders (insects with 3 main body segments, 3 pairs of legs on the thorax and a pair of antennae), and a discussion of the different life stages of insects. The author even covers both excreted and secreted products of insects to help with ID and details the types of damage to leaves and fruit with many useful photos. Chapter Two contains a helpful discussion on how to manage different types of insect pests.

Chock full of detailed photos, this book is well-organized based on what each insect in question does for a living.

There are chapters on leaf chewers; leaf miners; flower, fruit and seed feeders; sap suckers; gall makers; stem and twig damagers; trunk and branch borers; root, tuber and bulb feeders; and beneficial garden arthropods. That seems like a great way to narrow down the type of insect you're dealing with.

Most of the insect books I've seen group insects together by the family they belong to. I've found them to be difficult and frustrating to use because I'm often unsure just which family to go to. What a difference "Garden Insects" makes in this regard!

The information on each insect includes host plants, the type of damage it causes, the distribution so you know if it's an insect common to this region, and a description of their appearance, life history and habits. The photographs are excellent. They show close-ups of each insect and what the damage they do looks like.

Now let's say you find an insect in your garden and you don't know what kind of damage it can do (if any). Cranshaw's got you covered. She has compiled a 50-page appendix of host plant genera that will tell you the types of insects you might find on each.

For example, under the genus Lycopersicon (Tomato), it lists all of the leaf chewers, fruit chewers, sucking insects and mites that you might find on a tomato plant.

Cranshaw wraps up the book with a helpful glossary of terms. In the index, all insects are listed by their common and Latin names for ease in locating them.

If you've been conducting the same search for an excellent insect reference, this is it.