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Kaufman Field Guide to Insects

Check out the flashy green June bug, and you too will be a beetles fan.

By E. Dan Klepper

“The totality of life,” entomologist and Pulitzer prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson tells us, “is a membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin it cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered.” Wilson’s observation often comes to mind while hiking over Texas’ own bit of membrane, particularly whenever I encounter a member of the state’s vast insect population.

A full third of the 90,000 known insect species that inhabit the North American continent make their home here in Texas. Some are readily recognizable, while others are wholly unfamiliar. But remembering the names of even the most common ones can be a challenge. That’s why I’ve started keeping a copy of the new Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America in my daypack.

The guide provides quick and easy access to information about members of the insect world Texans may be curious about, including the first bug that caught my childhood interest — the thoroughly creepy niña de la tierra. The particular species I witnessed, about the shape, look and size of a cootie, is actually a type of Jerusalem cricket (family Stenopelmatidae), although according to Kaufman (page 84 in the guide), it’s not actually a cricket at all. The bizarre insect sparked my enthusiasm for the crawly world, and I moved on to become a beetles fan shortly thereafter. Around the time I was hand-cranking The White Album backwards on the turntable I was also creating a collection of expired but beautifully carapaced green June beetles, or Cotinis nitida (page 138). Texans will be happy to know that they need not depend on the ancient pyramids for their scarabs. The Cotinis is our very own.

Later, during the punk rock years, I developed an obsession for a giant moth called the black witch. The Ascalaphaodorata (page 254) occasionally crosses the Gulf of Mexico in the eye of a hurricane. How rock ‘n’ roll is that?!

Recently, I came full circle to the crickets again after stumbling upon an enormous Rhaph-idophoridae, or camel cricket (back to page 84), a genus that includes at least 89 North American species. I couldn’t find the exact species in the book, but the guide is not designed to cover everything. Instead, the authors utilize what they call “naked-eye entomology” in order to provide an overview of insects most likely identified through simple observation at an average distance. Considering the number of disconcertingly creepy insect species Texans can encounter on any given hike, that’s just about as close as you may want to get when trying to identify the critters. Feel free to let your Kaufman’s do the rest.

Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007

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