The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Book Review
The Butterflies of North America
Ro Wauer, May 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

The new "Butterflies of North America," a Kaufman Focus Guide by Jim Brock and Ken Kaufman, is without doubt the very best of the numerous butterfly field guides on the market today. This book is a must for anyone interested in butterflies, whether they are a novice or a long-time enthusiast. No other butterfly field guide covers all of North America's abundant species, including those found only in Texas. The authors utilize more than 2,300 images in natural lifelike poses to illustrate the North American butterfly fauna. This is one marvelous book!

The butterflies are grouped by families or subfamilies and all keyed to a pictorial table of contents in the first four pages. This system helps considerably when searching for various species. The illustrations within the pictorial table also provide the novice with a quick first-cut idea of the various groupings. Once a proper grouping is found, the illustrations, almost all from photographs taken in the field, usually include several views of each species. These include a typical view as one might see it in the field, as well as an underside or upperside view not usually visible. At times, when a species may appear somewhat different in various parts of the country, or when males and females look different, two or more images are included. At other times, a grouping will include a look-alike species, such as the Monarchs and Viceroys, to help the user separate those species.

Most of the illustrations are similar to the true size of the actual butterfly, large for the larger swallowtails and small for the smaller blues and crescents. When groupings do not permit the necessary space, an "actual size" silhouette is included in the upper right corner of the page. With rare exceptions, this method works very well. Another valuable technique used with many of the illustrations is a pinlike pointer that points out key field marks. This technique helps one zero in on the field mark(s) that is extremely helpful in identifying a particular species.

Illustrations, however, are only one part of a useful field guide. The other is the text. And the quality of the narratives in this new field guide equal that of the illustrations. The layout of the book includes narratives, along with range maps, directly across from the pertinent illustrations. All of these are well done. They discuss the major characteristics, larval foodplants, as well as other useful information. For example, the text for Rounded Metalmark includes the following: "South Texas only, common in lower Rio Grande Valley, where it flies all year (multiple broods). Difficult to separate from Fatal or Rawson's metalmarks. Forewings may look subtly more rounded, with fringes less clearly checkered." All three are possible in our area.

The range maps are generally very well done, certainly well enough for the majority of regions across North America. For South Texas, however, because it is an area where tropical species often occur as a temporary colonist or stray only, the maps occasionally are less exact. The authors have done an admirable job in addressing this situation by including a dotted line that illustrates the potential larger area. More often than not, they are right on!

Another portion of the Brock-Kaufman book is the introductory section that includes narratives on identifying butterflies, finding butterflies, the butterfly's life cycle, how butterflies are classified and named, and other activities involving butterflies. Instead of being boring, as these topics often are in field guides, the authors have done a remarkable job in keeping the narrative interesting and informative. Another plus!

I am sure that by now that the reader is wondering how much such a field-friendly book might cost. And that is still another plus! This 5x7.5-inch book (its fits perfectly in my back pocket), with 384 pages, a plasticized cover, and quality binding, sells for under $25.00. You can't go wrong! All good nature bookstores are selling this class A product!

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