Monday, September 5, 2011

The definitive guide to European butterflies

Today I commuted by bicycle, which maybe wasn't a good idea, as I got very tired, had a sore throat and got an headache after noon. The same symptoms which our daughters have complained of during the last few days. Some kind of minor flu is going around.

Sometimes you find a book which really makes you go "wow!" Or, as in this case: "WOW!" And this book is such a one: Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide (A & C Black, 2011) by Tari Haahtela, Kimmo Saarinen, Pekka Ojalainen and Hannu Aarnio.

Here is a quote from the cover of the book: "The authors are a team of dedicated Finnish naturalists that specialise in macro photography. They have travelled the length and breadth of Europe in search of butterflies for this book."

There is a short foreword by Ilkka Hanski, a leading population biologist, which prepares one for the fact that this book is quite unusual in its scope and ambition.

The book "is the definitive guide to all the 444 species of European butterflies with additional information on almost 70 species in the far east of Europe". It makes me shudder to think about such a monumental book project.

Here is another quote: "no butterfly lover should be without it". And indeed, even though a book with a more local scope may be more handy in quick identification of a species, having all European butterflies in the same book gives one a much better perspective of related species, and the environments which which the butterflies live. And there are occasional surprises when a species from far away travels, e.g., to Finland.

Also, the book clears up some confusion when a species is spead in a wide geographical region, with several subspecies. Sometimes there have been several names in latin for the same species.

And the photographs, they are just right for species identification. It seems like a miracle that the authors have managed to distill so much useful information in such a compact volume, including distribution maps and excellent photographs. You have photographs of both sexes plus views from top and underside, and sometimes there is even a landscape photo of the habitat where the butterfly lives in.

I'm not a butterfly specialist, so I won't comment on the accurary of information. But clearly a lot of effort have been put to polishing the presentation of the information. And the text is a pleasure to read.

I looked up some butterflies from this summer, and the photographs and descriptions were all excellent: short, to the point, and helpful. Thymelicus lineola, Pieris napi, Aphantopus hyperantus, Erebia ligea and so on.

The book is pocket-size - well, coat-pocket - and this may generate some complaints as some photographs are rather small and you have to look really close at them. On the other hand, a bigger book would be left at home, and a book that you have is infinitely better than a book not there when you need it.

And, finally, the book is inexpensive. I paid 13.18 euro for it at Book Deposit, and that included shipping to Finland. This is one of the best book deals I have ever made, and I have bought a lot of books. (Well, buying a paperback version of Sam Abell's Seeing Gardens was an even better deal.)

PS. I had plans to take a photograph of a butterfly for this posting, but being tired all I managed to do was a short walk to the nearby park.

No comments: