I love butterflies. They are one of the easier insect species to see in a garden and are very beautiful to examine up close. Observers will quickly learn that being easy to see doesn’t mean that a butterfly is always easy to identify.
The Complete Field Guide To Butterflies Of Australia aims to help readers learn how to identify various species. The guide features all of the butterfly species on Australia’s mainland and remote islands. This review explores whether the guide is useful for beginners.
The introduction is information overload.
The readability of the introductory chapters in insect field guides is often varied. Authors have to tie a fine line between providing enough information for both the amateur and professional entomologist. This guide leaned towards the more advanced audience.
My main struggle was the lack of space. The authors condensed a lot of information into a short amount of space and didn’t have many page breaks. I understand the need for brevity, especially when you consider that this book is one of the longer guides at 397 pages. The sheer amount of information, however, was quite overwhelming.
The section on the adult structure was adequately explained. The first image, which showed the main parts of the body of an adult butterfly, was simple compared to the later ones. It very quickly gets complex, especially when you look at the adult wing structure. In some cases, you had to flip over the page to find an image that matched the description on the previous page. Those who are new to insect identification are likely to struggle and will need to return to these pages.
The section of habitats was four pages of information, followed by five pages with images of habitat examples. This would have been more practical if the images were included with the original text. The life cycle section was more helpful in this regard.
One of the problems when creating a comprehensive guide is that you have to be aware of space limitations. The authors were limited to three species per page, which limited the amount of information they could feature. The notes are still pretty comprehensive.
Profiles feature notes on the butterflies other names, wingspan, similar species, variations, behaviour, habitat, status and larval food plants. The length of each section varies depending on the species. In some cases, the ‘similar species’ section has a brief sentence explaining the features that make that particular species unique. In more complex cases, the section can take up half of the profile.
With most profiles, you get four colour plates. These show the underside and upperside of both genders. In some cases, a third column is added to show variations such as subspecies, regional forms and seasonal forms. Where necessary, the line drawings of critical structures needed for identification are included.
The various species are organized into the six different butterfly families: swallowtails, skippers, whites and yellows, nymphs, metalmarks and blues. There is also a smaller section on species found on Australia’s islands. No further information is given on the families with these sections; you have to refer to the lone paragraphs in the “How To Identify Butterflies’ section in ‘How To Use This Book.’
How does it differ from the first edition?
In the original text, 416 butterfly species were recognized, with 398 known from the continent. The remaining species were found on the remote island territories. By the publication of the second edition, those numbers had risen to 435 and 408 respectively.
The sections on higher classification, distribution and habitats, and life cycle and behaviour in the introduction have had substantial revisions. There is a new chapter on collecting and preserving butterflies and, for most species, the flight charts and distribution maps have been updated. There are also 106 new colour images of set butterflies that have been added to the colour plates. In some cases, these images have replaced the previous ones.
Do I recommend it?
I wouldn’t recommend it for most beginners. The content is brilliant; however, the comprehensiveness can lead to overwhelm. Instead, I’d recommend tracking down a regional or statewide guide to build up your knowledge of butterflies.
I would recommend it to those who are sure they want to focus on butterflies and those who are likely to travel to multiple parts of Australia.