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Field Guides Can Be Fun

Jeff Gillman, Nursery Management Specialist


Different people collect different things. Some like baseball cards, some like shoes, and some like coins. I like books about insects. No, really, I do. Just glancing up from my desk I can count something like 5 field guides, 10 general entomology texts, and a slew of others that fit into categories like insect control, insect taxonomy and insect physiology (I have a lot more at home). If you were to spend some time with these books you would discover rather quickly that, all in all, entomologists are boring writers. No zip, little spark. And that, in a nutshell, is why I like Jeff Hahn's new book Insects of the North Woods so much.

Photo and Cover: Insects of the Northwoods, by Jeffrey Hahn. © Kollath-Stensaas Publishing.

Just looking at the cover of Insects of the North Woods you might be convinced that this is just a typical insect field guide. It's got some pretty pictures and, on the back, the obligatory author photo. But when you open the pages of this book, you quickly discover that it is not only as informative as you would expect from a University of Minnesota Entomologist, it's also entertaining. This book literally drips with Hahn's personality and sense of humor. Between talking about receiving a gift of a dead insect being every woman's dream when referring to scorpion fly mating rituals, and the mini scuba tanks that predaceous diving beetles use, you soon come to realize that this isn't just an entomologist reciting dry facts. Instead, this is an author who loves his subjects and who wants the reader to love them too. Like most people, I don't read field guides cover to cover, but with this book I have often found myself going through the book page by page because I don't want to miss one of Hahn's insightful comments (or one of his amusing analogies).

Besides the writing, this field guide has everything else that you'd expect a field guide to have, including great pictures (mostly by the author), a nice index system for finding the insect you're looking for, and a good, but not overly-done introduction. Though this guide concentrates on insects of the North Woods and so is, at least in theory, intended for use in northern Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, it is also the best book available for identifying insects in forests around the Twin Cities area and is a great first field guide for any budding entomologist. If you enjoy insects, or if you're just interested in knowing what some of the insects that flit about your trees are, then you shouldn't miss this book.

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