Scudder may be most widely known for his essay on the importance of first-hand, careful observation in the natural sciences. The treatise on inductive reasoning, entitled "The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz", reflects his initial experience under the tutelage of Louis Agassiz at Harvard University.
He graduated at Williams College in 1857 and at Harvard University in 1862, was a leading figure in American entomology from 1858, and the first North American insect palaeontologist. He also undertook systematic work with Lepidoptera (almost exclusively butterflies), Orthoptera , Mantodea and Blattoidea and fossil Arthropoda.
A student of Mark Hopkins at Williams College and Louis Agassiz at Harvard University, Scudder was a prolific writer, publishing 791 papers between 1858-1902, on insect biogeography and paleobiogeography, insect behavior ontogeny and phylogeny, insect songs, trace fossils, evolution, insect biology and economic entomology. He also wrote on ethnology, general geology, and geography.
His masterwork of fossil terrestrial arthropod research was the two-volume set Fossil Insects of North America: The Pre-tertiary Insects (1890) (a collection of his previous papers on Paleozoic and Mesozoic insects) and The Tertiary Insects of North America (1890)
He also published comprehensive reviews of the then-known fossil cockroaches of the world (1879), Carboniferous cockroaches of the United States (1890, 1895), and fossil terrestrial arthropods of the world (1886, 1891). Scudder's Nomenclator Zoologicus (1882-1884) was a seminal and comprehensive list of all generic and family names (Zoology including insects).
Scudder’s other contributions include: Curator, Librarian, Custodian, and President of the Boston Society of Natural History (1859-1870, 1880-1887); co-founder of the Cambridge Entomological Club and its journal Psyche (1874); General Secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1875) (Vice-President (1894).); First editor of Science (1883-1885); United States Geological Survey Paleontologist (1886-1892); etal.