This site merges the book A Guide to Field Guides: Identifying the Natural History of North America by Diane Schmidt, Emeritus Biology Librarian at the University of Illinois, and its companion Web site International Field Guides. After the publisher returned copyright to the book, the author decided to combine the two products and create a searchable database of field guides for plants, animals, and other objects in North America and around the world. Except where noted, all guides listed here were personally examined by the author.
As used in this site, a field guide is a small, lightweight book used to identify plants, animals, or other objects. It is designed to be used outdoors and usually contains many illustrations, whether drawings or photographs, and limited text. Generally speaking, field guides are used by amateurs, hence the emphasis on visual identification. There are a number of different technical manuals, atlases, floras and faunas, handbooks, and keys for the use of professionals which are not listed here. In addition, this site does not include finding guides.
Many field guides include a key. A key is an organized list of characteristics of a species or other taxon designed to assist in identification; computer scientists might call them decision trees. Most formal taxonomic keys are dichotomous keys, in which the user must select one or the other of two opposing choices (leaves opposite or leaves alternate, for instance), which then leads to another set of choices until the plant or animal is finally identified. There are many other varieties of keys, including tables and visual keys with illustrations of the species to be identified. Although keys generally require some practice to be used well they can be very helpful. Trees in winter, for instance, are more easily identified using a key than the usual field guide descriptions.
Other common features found in field guides include range maps and checklists. Checklists, as used in this database, include both comprehensive species lists in taxonomic order as well as life lists with check boxes so users can record which species they've seen. The presence of all of these features in each field guide is included in its description, along with its arrangement (by taxonomic order or by color, for instance) and the amount of general information on the natural history of the plants or animals.
The field guides are classified by type of organism and region covered. General guides which cover multiple groups of organism are listed in separate sections, Flora and Fauna for ecosystem-wide guides including both plants and animals, and Plants or Animals for guides which include groups of organisms from more than one category or which do not belong in another classification. Subjects were selected according to the number of field guides written about those groups of plants or animals. For instance, invertebrates are divided into two sections, Marine Invertebrates and Insects, and any groups not covered by those sections are lumped together in the Animals section.
Each classification is further subdivided by region. The regions are based on a combination of biogeographical and political divisions. Guides are not listed by country or state, since political boundaries generally make little biological sense.
The biogeographical regions used in this list are as follows:
You can search by title, contributor or subject term.
By clicking on the ISBN number of a field guide in the International Field Guides database, you can find out which WorldCat member libraries near you have a copy of the field guide. If a field guide is not available at a library near you, check with your own library about getting it through Interlibrary Loan.
This is not a bookseller's site. It includes both in-print and out-of-print guides. If you want to buy one of these field guides, try asking at your favorite local bookseller, check the publisher's Web site, or search the Web for one of the many specialized natural history booksellers.
One last note. I have been collecting information on field guides for over a decade, but naturally haven't been able to identify all field guides. If you know of a guide that isn't in here, please let me know.
Emeritus Biology Librarian
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign