How Do I Choose the Best Field Guide to Mammals?

C.H. Seman
C.H. Seman
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

A good field guide to mammals should be durable, comprehensive, portable and, above all, relevant to the owner's region or place of study. Before purchasing a reference book on mammals, the potential owner needs to consider the environment in which the book will be used. A field guide will be of little use if the animals it describes are not found in the region. After regional compatibility, the issues of durability, content and portability are the most important aspects to consider.

Before choosing a field guide to mammals, a researcher needs to determine if the guide's range covers the area in which the researcher intends to study. For example, a nature book based on the fauna of Africa, no matter how well-written that book may be, will be of little use if the researcher intends to study bears in Alaska. Most field guides will tell the reader which regions they cover, and it is essential for the potential buyer to review this information carefully.

A good field guide also should be robust and durable. Field research is often conducted in less-than-ideal circumstances. The field guide may be exposed to rain, harsh sunlight, extended periods of high humidity, dust or sand, and mechanical wear. Potential buyers should choose a field guide made from durable materials such as waterproof paper.

The comprehensiveness of a field guide to mammals is an important consideration and is dependent on the researcher's level of study. A simple nature book of large regional mammals may be enough for a child, but more information may be needed for university researchers or scientists. Field guides may vary from simply containing pictures and brief descriptions to containing information on tracks, habitats, behaviors, subspecies, hybrids, and even hints on how to find the animal in question.

Specialized field guides may be used if one needs a high level of information about a specific group of mammals. For example, a general field guide to mammals may not include enough information for a person studying the regional variations of feral hogs. Researching the different kinds of field guides available can help potential buyers choose a book relevant to their interests.

Portability is another characteristic that sets field guides apart from general reference books. A large textbook on mammals may not be ideal if the researcher wishes to conserve space in a backpack, but a small field guide takes up very little space. Digital field guides are popular choices for people with smartphones or electronic book readers. In addition to its lightness and portability, a digital field guide to mammals also can be used to download new information.

Many field guides contain pages meant for recording observations and logging time spent in the field. Such a section is not critical, but serious researchers may find an attached notebook useful when collecting data. Digital field guides may offer this as part of the software and, in some cases, may even be used to upload information to a database.

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