David Newland et.al., Princeton Univerity Press, £17.95.
Sensibly, the authors of this field guide, produced in association with Butterfly Conservation, have adopted geographical rather than political boundaries in their book, including the Republic of Ireland. 155 species are covered in detail, including more than 20 micro moths, and there are an impressive 320 colour photographs. Since most moths fly by night, the book includes those night-flying species you’re most likely to disturb as you’re gardening or striding through vegetation on daytime walks.
Two of my personal gripes with field guides are 1) species maps and text appearing on separate pages to the illustrations and 2) having to strain my eyes to read the text and index. Happily there are few such issues with this book. All the information you need for each species fits on a single page without loss of clarity. A clear, reasonably-sized font is used throughout and the index is colour-coded with bold red for the main species accounts, black for those mentioned only in relation to other species and italic blue for additional photographs.
Indeed this book is a triumph of design. Small enough to carry in the field, it comes with a protective PVC cover and a millimetre rule for field measurements printed in the inside back cover. Species are arranged by family, with an introduction to each group. Half-page photographs allow for magnification and are often breathtaking. The upper edge of each photo fades into soft focus, misting the division between text and picture. A colour-banded box next to the text provides a quick and easy reference to status, where and when the moth can be found, forewing length (a bar in the margin also shows this in visual form) larval foodplant and similar species. The maps are also colour-coded, and photo magnification and Bradley & Fletcher numberof the species are given.
Much additional information has been included, with sections on how to distinguish butterflies and moths, biology, taxonomy, key family features, habitat, gardening for moths and a glossary appearing before the species accounts, while a quick reference table and sections on conservation, recording and further reading are at the back.
Photo magnification sometimes leads to a loss of sharpness, and page numbers occasionally merge into the background of the photographs they are printed over, despite the publisher’s attempt to combat this by employing both black and white font-colours. But these are minor criticisms.
More disappointing is the lack of site information. The Chalk Carpet, for example, is found on the cliffs of Flamborough, my home, and more people recording the species could potentially add much to our knowledge of it. Sites for such scarcer species could have been listed briefly at the end of the description, or in the text box. The authors have missed an opportunity here, since to my knowledge, no such book on the subject has yet appeared for moths.
This is an informative and attractive guide, which with the inclusion of site information could have been a ‘must-buy’ for up to intermediate-level lepidopterists.