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Ross H. Arnett, Michael C. Thomas, Paul E. Skelly, and J. Howard Frank, Editors
CRC Press, New York
2002, 861 pp.
Several books by various authors have attempted to treat the beetle fauna of North America. In 1960, Ross Arnett published the first printing of The Beetles of the United States: A Manual for Identification, a work largely written by Arnett himself—an amazing accomplishment. The 1973 printing of this work was the resource of choice until Ross Arnett’s final project, American Beetles, was published.
This two-volume set is the latest treatment of Coleoptera and is, without a doubt, the most complete and detailed coverage to date. Rather than one or several authors treating all families, this two-volume set is edited by four highly capable coleopterists, and each chapter is written by an authority on the family treated therein. This obviously contributes to the expert treatment of each group. No other publication has covered this fauna in as much detail as this set.
It is clear that the purpose of this work is to provide fast and accurate identifications. The included keys and descriptions are crucial for anyone who works with beetle identification at any level. Each chapter covers a North American family of beetles that occurs north of Mexico. These books focus primarily on the adult stage, but the authors also present limited information about the eggs, larvae, and pupae for each family, when known. The chapters contain a morphological description, habits, distribution, overview of the classification, and an identification key at the level of genus. Almost without exception, each author also provides illustrations of morphological features important to identifying the taxa covered. These illustrations are not only extremely helpful but are of exceptional quality. Because many of the 131 families included in this work have had their classifications changed since other works covering this fauna have been published, the information in American Beetles reflects the most up-to-date taxonomic knowledge of Coleoptera. The aim of this series is to include a key to genera for all beetles found north of Mexico. This is a remarkable feat.
At 861 pages, Volume II covers 109 families within the suborder Polyphaga (superfamilies Scarabaeoidea through Curculionidae.). The reader should be aware that coverage of the suborder Polyphaga begins in Beetles of the United States (volume I, now out of print) with the Staphyliniformia and its 15 families. This is due, no doubt, to the enormous size of Polyphaga relative to the other three suborders and represents a logical place to subdivide the Coleoptera into two manageable volumes. The classification scheme within Coleoptera has changed significantly since Arnett’s 1973 edition of Beetles of the United States. This is clearly reflected in Volume II, which covers 46 “new” families due to changes in rank and redefinitions of some families. In addition, Volume II also includes an organized, well-written identification key to all North American beetle families that reflects these changes in classification. And, unlike many other keys that have been published elsewhere, this one works very well.
Sadly, Dr. Arnett did not live to see his last big project finished; he died in July 1999. I think that his last project’s significance and splendid quality is a great testament to a talented coleopterist. Volume II of American Beetles, as well as its companion, Volume I, is most highly recommended to beetle novices and experts alike, and I have no doubt it will remain “the standard” for some time to come.
Department of Entomology and Nematology
University of Florida
Vol. 51, No.2, Summer 2005