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WorldTwitch Best Butterfly Book To Date
Rick Cech and Guy Tudor. Butterflies of the East Coast: An Observer's Guide. (Covers the eastern US & Canada.) Princeton University Press, May 2005. 345 pages. 285mm x 225mm. 234 full-page species accounts and accompanying range maps. 735 color photos of butterflies and caterpillars. 215 photos of individual host plants and habitats. US | UK | DE | FR | CA | JP
Like many naturalists, I collected butterflies during childhood. Later, after becoming obsessed with birding, I paid minimal attention to butterflies for many years until Guy Tudor started the New York City Butterfly Club in 1985. The club brought birders and lepidopterists (e.g., Jeff Ingraham) together for the first time with the goals of determining (1) reliable field marks to identify butterflies through close-focusing binoculars and (2) the current distribution of local butterflies. One of the most important contributors was Jeff Glassberg, whose Butterflies Through Binoculars (1993) was the first serious field guide intended for butterfly watchers rather than collectors.
It was almost impossible for New York area birders not to become involved with butterflies, as club members were constantly discussing butterflies, butterfly trips, and butterfly club meetings. Rick Cech [photo], an active birder and bird photographer, soon joined and immersed himself in Lepidoptera. [Photo: Guy Tudor chairs a NYC Butterfly Club meeting, 8 April 2002.]
For more than 10 years, Cech traveled up and down the East Coast during butterfly season, which is almost year-round in Florida, searching for and photographing butterflies, larvae, habitats and host plants. While home in New York, he undertook a comprehensive review of relevant literature.
The result is Butterflies of the East Coast (BOTEC), which sets a new standard for butterfly books. Issued in hardcover, quarto format, BOTEC was not intended to be a field guide, although many butterfliers will carry it in the field, at least until a compact version becomes available. For the most part, usability is excellent. The book is well-bound and opens flat throughout. The main type font is large enough for comfortable reading, and there is sufficient white space separating sections and photographs. Unfortunately, the extensive footnotes to the Introduction were printed in a tiny font that will be virtually unreadable by many people over 40. If the footnotes simply contained citations, a tiny font would be tolerable, but the important, substantive material in BOTEC's footnotes should have been printed in the same size font as the main text.
The Introduction provides an excellent outline of the natural history of butterflies in the various habitats found in the area covered. Cech's legal background is betrayed by the numerous citations. Since only the world's finest natural history libraries contain all the sources, a digital version of the Introduction with hyperlinked copies of the cited articles would be most desirable. The digital format would also render irrelevant the publisher's microscopic footnote font. Readers could enlarge fonts to suit their preferences with individual user style sheets, as many do to improve the usability of incompetently designed websites.
The main section of BOTEC contains a one or two-page summary for each family and group and a single page for each species. Each butterfly is depicted in two to four fine color photos showing dorsal and ventral views and sexual and seasonal differences. Nearly all photos are of wild butterflies. A few specimen photos were included to fill in the gaps, such as a bright blue dorsal view of White M Hairstreak, sometimes crucial for identification. There usually is one additional color photo per species illustrating host plants or in a few instances larvae or habitats. There is also a map of the U.S. range and a double-headed arrow graphic showing the length of the butterfly's average wingspan.
The species accounts begin with a well-written summary that often includes recently discovered or little known information of interest. Following is a brief identification section, set off between horizontal lines, with comparisons to similar species. The final section covers habitat, host plants, occurrence and ecology, with separate headings.
A special, unexpected treat is the inclusion of illustrated articles interspersed among the species accounts. Since they were omitted from the Table of Contents, I will list them here for ease of reference:
Everyone interested in the butterflies of the Eastern U.S. and Canada should own this book. In addition, anyone contemplating writing a butterfly book for a different region should have a look at the format.