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Science Entomology

Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity

With a Photographic Guide to Insects of Eastern North America

by (author) Stephen A. Marshall

Firefly Books
Initial publish date
Sep 2017
Entomology, Insects & Spiders
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2017
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Reviews of the first edition of Insects:
[starred review]"This book is simply bigger, prettier, and more comprehensive than any previous publication on insects."
--Library Journal

"An incredibly important, masterfully written and profusely illustrated work that belongs in the library of every field biologist, educator, student and naturalist . . . a book that is destined to become a natural history classic".
--Arthur V Evans, Research Collaborator, Dept. of Entomology, Smithsonian Institution

Called "a milestone in insect photography" and "simply bigger, prettier and more comprehensive than any previous publication on insects," Professor Stephen Marshall's Insects is now in a new edition, with more than 500 changes to reflect the latest scientific findings since it was first published in 2006.

It is a comprehensive reference on insects featuring an easy identification guide using 28 picture keys, 4000 color photographs taken in the field (not pinned specimens), expert advice on observing insects, and more.

Insects enables readers and starting entomologists to identify most insects quickly and accurately. More than 50 pages of picture keys lead to appropriate chapters and specific photos, to confirm identification. The keys are surprisingly comprehensive and easy for non-specialists to use.

Features include:

detailed chapters covering insect orders and insect families a brief examination of common families of related terrestrial arthropods 4000+ color photographs showing typical behaviors and key characteristics three indexes--common family names, photographs, general index expert guidance on observing, collecting and photographing insects new remarks on declining habitat and threats to biodiversity.

This book has been widely and thoroughly praised. It is now ready for a new generation of new, and lifetime students of entomology.

About the author

Stephen A. Marshall is a professor of entomology at the University of Guelph, where he developed a major insect collection and carries out research on insect systematics and biodiversity. He has discovered hundreds of new species, several new genera and even two new subfamilies. He is also the author of Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity, a Booklist Editor's Choice Reference selection for 2006.

Stephen A. Marshall's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Marshall presents the second edition of his informative, user-friendly work. This comprehensive resource is engagingly written, at times humorous and witty. It provides thoroughly researched information on insect taxonomy, ecology, and behavior as well as the economic and medical contexts in which insects are involved. Over 4,000 photographs of insects appeared in the first edition; some were replaced, and many were added. Most insects are pictured in their natural environment, following information on orders and families. Each caption is accompanied by details on the depicted creature. All 33 insect orders are covered, as are many (though not all) of the northeastern US families. Most newly added photographs are of southeastern species. Pictures are complemented by a dichotomous, illustrated key of all orders and covered families... This vital resource will benefit the curious, amateur entomologists, students, and researchers alike... Essential. All readers.

Choice Magazine

[Previous edition.] [Selected as one of the "Outstanding Academic Titles" for 2006]


[Review of previous edition:] I cannot wait to try this text in my insect-biology class... This is an outstanding contribution to entomology. It will play an important role in the training of insect lovers for the foreseeable future.

American Scientist

[Review of previous edition:] [starred review] Written at a level accessible to college students in introductory biology courses as well as motivated laypeople... Some 4,000 detailed color photographs of individual species in their natural environments afford the user the opportunity to view the insects as they appear in life. More than 50 pages of illustrated keys to the identification of insect groups are designed to be as user-friendly as possible.... Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity is notable for its numerous color photographs, accessible language, and relatively simple-to-use identification keys. It is highly recommended for public, academic, and special libraries, particularly those in northeastern North America.


[Previous edition.] [Selected as one of the "Best Reference Books of 2006"]

Library Journal

[Review of previous edition:] This volume is big, beautiful, well written, and informative.... Very few insect books describe or show as many insects as this author has... Each family is introduced in several pages of excellent text and is followed by hundreds of photographs with fact-filled captions.... The material is up to date, the text remarkably free of typographical errors, and the book is printed on fine-quality paper. In addition to describing the diversity, natural history, and behavior of insects, the author provides many examples of insects being used for biological control. The final chapter offers suggestions for collecting, preserving, and photographing insects. A very well illustrated key to insect families and to some common insect larvae is included. I recommend this truly valuable tome very highly; it should be in every high school, college, and municipal library in northeastern North America.

Science Books and Film

[Review of previous edition:] This volume is an incredibly important, masterfully written, and profusely illustrated work that belongs in the library of every field biologist, educator, student and naturalist who professes more than just a passing interest in insects. It is also an essential reference work for city, school, and university libraries.... I heartily applaud Stephen Marshall's efforts and skill in crafting such a beautiful, useful, and engaging book that is destined to become a natural history classic.

The Coleopterists Bulletin 61(3), 2007

[Review of previous edition:] Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity isn't for the general-interest holding so much as the college-level collection catering to entomologists. Insects of Eastern North America are the focus in a jam-packed colorful reference displaying insects within their order and including notes on their introduction, habitats, coloring and more. It's the professional's solid reference to identification and habits, making it a top basic reference pick for serious science libraries.


[Review of previous edition:] [revised ed.] This volume is big, beautiful, well written, and informative.... I recommend this truly valuable tome very highly; it should be in every high school, college, and municipal library in northeastern North America.

Science Books and Film

[Review of previous edition:] With over 4000 color photographs taken virtually all in the wild, this book is the most comprehensive photographic overview of insects ever published... The breadth of this book, covering all the insect diversity in eastern North America, including a tremendous amount of biological information that is explained and captured with wonderful photographs, will ensure that the book is a landmark reference in entomology for years to come.

Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Canada

[Review of previous edition:] [STARRED REVIEW] This amazing six-pound volume, which offers more than 4000 excellent color photographs and concise, accurate information about every major insect family worldwide... Bottom Line: This book is simply bigger, prettier, and more comprehensive than any previous publication on insects and will be useful to amateur and professional alike. It belongs in every public and school library.

Library Journal

[Review of previous edition:] Stunning... a powerful, "must-have" identification tool... The strength of the work is the collection of over 4,000 color photographs (and) well-written captions. Most of the images are of living insects in the field, including many uncommon species I'd wager most entomologists have never seen alive... It is hard to describe the mix of awe, amazement, and perhaps intimidation at Marshall's photographic and entomological accomplishment... There is simply no book approaching the comprehensiveness of Marshall's. It is in a league of its own.

American Entomology, Vol. 54, No. 1, Spring 2008, journal of the Entomological Society of America

[Review of previous edition:] Whether one is seeking mastery of an understanding of insects or is content with occasionally satisfying his or her curiosity about a particular encounter with an insect, this volume is an excellent resource. The book has coffee-table quality combined with practitioner-level relevance.

Science Books and Films

[Review of previous edition:] Clearly this represents the life work of a fine scientist.... I urge every library to make them available.

The Buffalo News and Buffalo University

[Review of previous edition:] Magnificent... thousands of photographs that allow identification of almost any insect to family and many to genus or species... a delight to read due to Marshall's wry sense of humor and idiosyncratic enthusiasms.

American Reference Books Annual

[Review of previous edition:] Groundbreaking.


[Review of previous edition:] When this book first crossed my desk, to say that I was instantly enamored would be an understatement. It was beautiful, the cover adorned with a stunning jewel-toned dogbane beetle... I almost didn't want to crack the binding [but] once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down. Visually stunning... Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity has the look and feel of a glossy coffee table book while still being full of accurate, well-researched information... Priced so as not to be cost prohibitive ... clearly written in plain language, it will be highly accessible to a broad audience, including naturalists, amateur entomologists as well as seasoned professionals. The author has also included a dollop of humour and wit throughout.... This book would make a great textbook for a natural history or general entomology course... With its depth of scope and true to life photographs Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity would be indispensable in the field. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone who has an interest in entomology, natural history or a simple curiosity about the six-legged world that surrounds us

Canadian Field Naturalist, vol. 120, no. 1, Jan-Mar 2006

[Review of previous edition:] [A] jam-packed colorful reference ... for serious science libraries.

The Midwest Book Review

[Review of previous edition:] An impressive book.... Informative and fascinating.

Sideroads of Caledon and Erin

[Previous edition.] Winner of the 2006 Science In Society Journalism Award in the General Book competition

Canadian Science Writers' Association

[Previous edition.] Winner, General Competition, 2006 Science in Society Journalism Awards, National Association of Science Writers

National Association of Science Writers

[Selection, 2007 RUSA Outstanding Reference Source, Reference and User Services Association [RUSA] Committee] "A wealth of information is provided for the work's less-than-$100 price."

American Libraries

[Review of previous edition:] Magnificent ... an exceptionally large "field guide" that laboratory workers with some background will find indispensable, but that anyone at all interested in insects will warmly welcome. ... Countless photographs (many of rarely viewed insect families/species) make it an unmatched resource. ... fantastic variety of illustrated species ... This remarkable book is destined to become a fixture in all general entomological collections. Summing Up: Essential. All levels.


[Previous edition.] Best Books 2007, Junior High and Young Adult, Zoological Sciences

Science Books and Films

[Review of previous edition:] For the backyard enthusiast... Marshall designed this books so that a reader can easily identify just about any given bug by order or family.

Quill and Quire

[Previouse edition.] [Selected as one of 2007's Outstanding Reference Sources] Some 4,000 detailed color photographs of individual species in their natural environments afford the user the opportunity to view the insects as they appear in life.


Entomology is a huge topic and this, as are Stephen Marshall's previous books, is a huge book... Clearly not a field guide, but very much a guide to the fields explored by naturalists. And if you want an entomology course--something that is increasing difficult to find, given the decline in the number of courses--without the bother of attending classes, then this is your book... Your entomological library won't be complete without this one... Each chapter consists of text organized around the families under discussion, followed by copious photos illustrating the many species within these families. The photos--an integral, essential part of the book--are a reasonable size, 44 x 58 mm, and usually nine to a page. Organized like the text, but in more taxonomic detail, the photos and their captions--which contain additional details on the size, range, habitat, and behaviour of the species pictured--both illustrate and supplement the main text. Marshall is a prolific photographer and this edition is, in part, a celebration of the advances in digital photography... It seems every page is punctuated by fascinating details of insect characteristics and behaviour, recounted in his approachable style, leavened by his sense of humour... The picture keys are an important part of the book, illustrated by sketches and generally using familiar terms. Three indexes are provided, to the photographs by genus and species, to common family names, and a general, largely taxonomic, index; its updates reflect, of course, the many taxonomic changes. That might seem like overkill, but there is a lot to navigate in this book! The simple statistics of the book indicate how impossibly large the field of entomology is. Scientists can spend entire careers collecting and organizing chosen families of insects. Stephen Marshall has made heroic efforts in this and previous publications to distill this extensive knowledge into a useful, accessible format. While the book is far too big and heavy to cart into the field, it is invaluable in the home office--preferably on a lectern!--for anyone interested in learning more about these fascinating animals. While the first edition was produced initially as a text for his third-year entomology course, the second adds another purpose: to not only teach insect identification, but also to encourage potential citizen scientists to contribute to their own as well as a broader understanding of entomology. This is a never-ending task, and the sheer number of people Marshall acknowledges (p. 677) as helping along the way is another measure of its enormity. This book, then, is in a sense an iterative process: it accumulates much of what is known, comments on how little that really is, and encourages the expansion of knowledge. If it's successful, the second edition will necessitate its replacement by further editions as well as, we can hope, more specialized off-shoot volumes, such as Flies, for other large orders. We're behind in Canada compared to other countries. We may never catch up, but we can at least be inspired to get into the game. Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity is a great source of such inspiration.

The Canadian Field-Naturalist

[Review of previous edition:] Dazzling and tremendously helpful to anyone who wants to know about insects... I'm honored to hold it in my hands.

Hersam Acorn Newspapers (NY State)

[Previous edition.][Selected as one of Booklist's Editors' Choice, 2006: Reference Sources] Detailed color photographs... designed to be as user-friendly as possible.


[Review of previous edition:] This is not a coffee table book. Do not be fooled by its large format or lavish colour photo spreads. It is actually more like attending a series of third year entomology lectures, complete with visuals, given by the best lecturer you have ever seen. Based on author Stephen A. Marshall's experience teaching such a course, the book provides information on every insect order and family found in North America (i.e. west of the Mississippi and north of Georgia). Included with each are details on things like taxonomy, ecological relationships, predators and predator defenses, and relationships to people, from economics to disease vectors. Marshall presents this information in such a fascinating and idiosyncratic fashion that you get no sense of the routine approach to classification typical of many field guides. Nature nuggets abound, and this book should become the interpretive naturalist's best friend. It is also a field guide, with well-illustrated and constructed keys and photos which go from 'where should I start with this bug?' to the family/sub-family level for all of North American insects. This is a book for the serious amateur or student who wishes to be immersed in the insect world, and would be well-placed on the bookshelf of biology teachers and outdoor centres. But don't take my word, take E. O. Wilson's (the father of modern biodiversity studies): I wish I'd had Stephen Marshall's book when I started out in entomology.

Green Teacher

[Review of previous edition:] (starred review) If fascinating isn't a word you tend to use in conversations about canker worms...or any other arthropod with a head, thorax, and abdomen, Marshall is determined to change your way of thinking. He accomplished this with information about members of the 33 insect orders that is clear and in places absolutely riveting. This biological and ecological knowledge is enhanced by more than 4000 photographs that he has taken of insects in their natural habitats.... The volume's value to younger children should not be overlooked.... Marshall's Insects is an invaluable resource for those who want to know more about the biology and behaviour of a particular insect and for those interested in biodiversity, insect classification, and the impact of insects on commerce and human health. Highly Recommended.

Canadian Materials

[Review of previous edition:] The perfect reference book even for those of us with a limited interest in bugs. The book is perfect for birders... To spend an afternoon comparing bugs and pictures, learning about what is in the backyard and having this intimate glimpse into a bird's life is heavenly to me.

Main Courier-Gazette

[Review of previous edition:] Outstanding and should be on the bookshelf of every natural historian -- insect lover or not -- in eastern North America... ideally suited for anyone with an interest in insects, from the curious backyard observer to the experienced field naturalist or professional biologist... comprehensive, easy-to-use ... a beautiful and informative guide... loaded with 4000 stunning photographs made by the author, thus offering a level of uniformity between illustration and description often absent in many such books. Indeed, the photography is so spectacular that this volume could stand alone as a coffee table book of insects... contains a wealth of biological facts and natural history trivia... Put simply, not only is this book a wonderful field guide, it will serve as a fertile source of research ideas for students of entomology... It would not surprise me if, decades from now, professional biologists credit Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity with inspiring them to do what they do -- it's that good.

BioScience (American Institute of Biological Science)

Other titles by Stephen A. Marshall