Cheesman was unable to train for a career as a veterinary surgeon due to restrictions on women's education. Instead, she studied entomology, and was the first woman to be hired as a curator at Regent's Park Zoo, in London.
In 1924 she was invited to join a zoological expedition to the Marquesas and Galapagos Islands. She spent approximately twelve years on similar expeditions, travelling to New Guinea, the New Hebrides and other islands in the Pacific Ocean. In New Guinea she made a collecting expedition to the coastal area between Aitape and Jayapura (known as Hollandia at the time) and visited the Cyclop Mountains, near Jayapura, collecting insects.
Evelyn assisted at the Natural History Museum, London for many years as a volunteer. She was awarded an OBE for her contribution to entomology. A number of insect species are named after her including the recently described true bug Costomedes cheesmanae. .
She also collected reptiles and amphibians and several New Guinea species were named in her honour:
- Platymantis cheesmanae Parker, 1940 - Cyclops Range Ground Frog (Ceratobatrachidae)
- Barygenys cheesmanae Parker, 1936 - Mt Tafa Burrowing Frog (Microhylidae)
- Cophixalus cheesmanae Parker, 1934 - Cheesman's Hill-forest Frog (Microhylidae)
- Litoria cheesmani (Tyler, 1964) - Cheesman's Big-eyed Treefrog (Hylidae)
- Lipinia cheesmanae Parker, 1940 - Cheesman's Moth Skink (Scincidae)
The treefrog is interesting in that the herpetologist who described it, has used the masculine genitive ending 'i' instead of the feminine 'ae', showing an assumption that the collector must have been a man.
In New Guinea, Cheesman briefly investigated the mysterious flying lights now called "ropen lights," decades before the late-20th Century and early 21st Century ropen expeditions. In her book The Two Roads of Papua, she dismissed the possibility that the lights are from "any human agency." Nevertheless, her investigation did not acknowledge the possibility of a cryptid, therefore she is not labelled a cryptozoologist.
She was the author of many books and scientific articles on entomology and her travels.
- 1924 - Everyday Doings of Insects. London: Harrap
- 1927 - Chapters from Everyday Doings of Insects. London: Harrap
- 1927 - Islands near the sun: Off the beaten track in the far, fair Society Islands. London: H. F. & G. Witherby
- 1932 - Hunting insects in the South Seas. London: Philip Allan & Co. Ltd
- 1932 - The Growth of Living Things; A First Book of Nature Study. New York: McBride
- 1933 - Backwaters of the Savage South Seas. London: Jarrolds
- 1933 - The Island of Malekula, New Hebrides. (in the Geographical Journal 81(3): 193-210). London: Royal Geographic Society
- 1933 - Insect behaviour. New York: R. O. Ballou
- 1935 - The two roads of Papua. London: Jarrolds
- 1937 - The Cyclops Mountains of Dutch New Guinea. (In The Australian Museum Magazine 6(6)). Sydney: Australian Museum
- 1938 - The land of the red bird. London: H. Joseph (travels to Dutch New Guinea)
- 1948 - Camping adventures in New Guinea. London: Harrap
- 1949 - Camping adventures on cannibal islands. London: Harrap
- 1949 - Six-legged snakes in New Guinea; a collecting expedition to two unexplored islands. London: Harrap
- 1950 - Landfall the unknown: Lord Howe Island,1788. London: Penguin
- 1952 - Insects indomitable; illustrated by Arthur Smith. London: G. Bell
- 1953 - Insects: their secret world. Illustrated by Arthur Smith. New York: Sloane
- 1955 - Charles Darwin and his problems. New York: Abelard-Schuman
- 1956 - Sealskins for silk: Captain Fanning’s voyage around the world in a brig in 1797-99. Illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam. New York: Abelard-Schumann
- 1957 - Things worth while. London: Hutchinson
- 1960 - Time well spent. Scientific explorations in the Pacific. London: Hutchinson
- 1965 - Who stand alone. London: G. Bles
- n.d. - The great little insect. London: HS
She also contributed to:
- Arpad Ferenczy, The ants of Timothy Thümmel, New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1924. "Notes on the social life of the ants [with a bibliography] compiled with the assistance of Miss E.L. Cheesman ... and revised by Mr. Horace Donisthorpe": p. 259-320.
- Tuzin, Donald F. (1997) ‘The Cassowary's Revenge: the life and death of masculinity in a New Guinea society’ University of Chicago Press, p. 86
- Doesburg, P.H. van. A taxonomic revision of the family Velocipedidae Bergroth, 1891 (Insecta: Heteroptera) Zool. Verh. Leiden 347, 28.v.2004, 5-110, figs 1-229.— ISSN 0024-1652/ISBN 90-73229-92-3
- Reptile Database listing for skink Lipinia cheesmanae
- Amphibian Database listing for all frogs (copy and paste scientific name in taxon and click name in resultant record)
- Papua Insect Foundation page on the Cyclop Mountains