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December 21, 1986|David Graber

THE BUTTERFLIES OF NORTH AMERICA: A NATURAL HISTORY AND FIELD GUIDE by James A. Scott (Stanford University: $49.50; 583 pp.). There is real pleasure in describing a new book that represents tremendous effort and will be appreciated to a commensurate degree by its intended audience. This handsome volume combines a comprehensive guide to the identification of all North American butterflies and skippers with much supplementary material. Nearly 2,000 color photographs (including many of eggs, larvae, and pupae) are supported by keys to all life stages. Individual species accounts often run to several hundred words of detailed description, ecological notes and anecdotal material, and are accompanied by range maps. Included is an impressive host plant catalogue that is interesting in its own right and--thanks to the extreme host specificity of most butterflies--permits one to reduce possible identifications to a very few.

More than 100 pages of butterfly natural history make for a respectable overview; Scott's coverage of systematics and evolution is particularly noteworthy. There is likewise a decent section on the capture, preservation and study of butterflies. Scott's book is undoubtedly a must-buy for amateur and professional lepidopterists, but it does have a few shortcomings. Excellent though they are, some of the color photographs are simply too tiny; larger images and a modest addition to the 64 color plates would have made sense. Literature citations are absent, and the references few and awkwardly arranged. No reference whatever is made to William H. Howe's masterful (and strikingly similar!) text of the same name published in 1975, and only passing mention of W. J. Holland's classic, "The Butterfly Book." These are peculiar flaws in what is otherwise a tremendous achievement.

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