by James L. Monroe and David M. Wright, University of Pittsburg Press, Copyright 2017
When this book arrived from Amazon, my first thought was that “I may not know a lot about butterflies, but I do know how to spell Pennsylvania!” That was because of the rather curious yellow sticker attached to the spine of the book. On it was written “Butterflies of Pennsylvania”. Underneath, however, appeared to be “Butterflies of Pensylvania.” At least that’s what I think it was originally.
I looked over the hundreds of other books in my library, many of them on butterflies, but could not find another instance where the spine had such an extra layer added. Having been a graphic designer myself in a previous life, I felt for whomever did the cover layout. Perhaps our neighbors to the north (This book was printed in Canada.) are unfamiliar with the early exploits of William Penn. I’ll bet everyone proofed the pages very carefully and missed the book cover.
Other than being a bibliographical oddity, the cover really doesn’t matter. My grandmother always told me that “You can’t judge a book by the cover.” I’m sure you have been told the same thing. True enough. While I may not know much about butterflies, the two authors of this book certainly do and they share this information in a very pleasant manner.
The first chapter introduces the reader to butterflies, whether they be in Pennsylvania, Pensylvania, or any place else for that matter. Topics covered include Evolutionary Origins, Anatomy, Scientific Names, Life Cycle, Seasons, Migration, Overwintering, Mating, Egg Laying and Host Plants, Predators, Protective Coloration, Diversity and Habitat, Butterfly Watching, Butterfly Gardening, and Conservation. A couple of pages are devoted to the Physiographic Provinces of Pennsylvania. These are still worth reading as we have similar types here in Maryland.
Then, it’s on to the butterflies. Although wait! There are butterflies on the inside front and back covers too. This is where one should begin any identification process. The authors refer to this as a “Quick Guide”. The butterflies pictured represent the various families and are divided into groups labeled as Large, Medium, Medium to Small, and Small. Next to each representative are listed a general description, i.e. “Predominantly orange with black dashes, spots, etc.” Below this the page numbers are listed where one should search.
The Species Accounts are thorough, but not boring. Topics covered for each includes Distinguishing Marks, Typical Behavior, Habitat, Larval Hosts, and Abundance. There is also a short section for remarks. Each species is illustrated with a photo, front and back, of the male and female. These are obviously collected and pinned specimens. Anyone used to using one of Jeffrey Glassberg’s Butterflies Through Binoculars field guide series may be a bit disappointed at this. I would maintain, however, that there is just as much information (perhaps more) provided in these photos as in ones of the living insects. You just have to learn how to use it.
That being said, I’m not sure I would use this book in the field. It is much better for before or after a day of butterflying. If you take your own pictures, it would make a handy resource to help you figure out exactly what you saw.
There are also special mini sections referred to as “Special Topics”. This is where the book really shines. Many of these deal with problems in identification like how to tell the difference between the Three Witches (three small female skippers of similar appearance), Fall Migrant Skippers, Tiger Swallowtails, etc. These sections all have headers backed in green so that they are easily identified. Many of these use photos of living butterflies as examples.
Speaking of colors, the distribution maps could have used more intense shades. The gray designating the counties where a particular species was recorded, but not within the last 20 years, is fine. The yellow used for counties where a species was seen in the last 20 years, however, is a bit washed out and (depending on the light) rather difficult to see next to the white of counties where species have not been seen at all.
Of course, maybe I’m just getting old and can’t see as well I used to. You be the judge. Hopefully, you will purchase a copy of this book and enjoy it as much as I have. In spite of the fact that it pertains mainly to Pennsylvania, most of the species are the same ones as we have here and the basics would still apply. You will still find it a valuable resource. Or, you can drive up to Pennsylvania and use it there. Just don’t spell the name wrong.