I have spent many an enjoyable hour paging through this brand new and fully revised edition of Field guide to butterflies of South Africa, which consists of 464 richly illustrated pages. This precious guide is said to make a thoughtful and wonderful gift to professional entomologists, gardeners and nature enthusiasts alike. The mind boggles just thinking about the research and time that went into this publication! What’s more is that the guide works hand in hand with the Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa app, which is easily downloadable from the Android or Apple stores.
The first edition of Field guide to butterflies of South Africa was published in 2005 and was hailed as an "invaluable resource for enthusiasts wanting to identify the butterflies they were seeing in the field" (7). Online virtual museums such as LepiMAP and iNaturalist have done a lot since to pique people’s interest in butterflies. Enthusiasts are encouraged to submit digital photographs and basic data pertaining to the location where the pictures are shot. "The South African butterfly list now stands at 671 species, although some of these are vagrants from the north. Consequently, the text of this edition has been fully updated and revised. Furthermore, it features more than 1 850 photographs, of which at least 1 400 have not been published previously" (7). It is interesting to note that "[i]ncreased use of diagnostic tools such as DNA barcoding (and whole genome sequencing) has generated new insights about relationships between genera and species, inevitably resulting in changes in taxonomy" (7).
The press release accompanying my copy of Field guide to butterflies of South Africa explains that "[t]he species accounts have been comprehensively updated and expanded, covering identification, habits, flight periods, broods, typical habitat, distribution and larval food source. A helpful introductory section with over 100 images, including 55 early stages images, discusses butterfly biology, taxonomy, classification, anatomy and behaviour."
I found the "How to use this book" section very handy, and thought it guided me well through the myriad of information. Other user-friendly characteristics of the guide include colour-coded sections for ease of use, updated distribution maps, a quick A–Z reference to butterfly groups, and updated common names. The sections on butterfly foods listed by both scientific and common names on pages 442–7 are a welcome extra. I also enjoyed the information under "What is a butterfly?", "Taxonomy and nomenclature", "Butterfly biology", "Reproduction", "Biomes of South Africa" and "Distribution and conservation". However, it was the parts on identifying and collecting butterflies that had me itching to go butterfly hunting in my own garden, and I appreciated the nine points on the ethics of collecting on page 39. There is even information on how to identify a subfamily in the early stages, with dozens of beautiful photos of butterfly eggs, larvae and pupae.
In the acknowledgements, the author gives thanks to "the LepiMAP team – headed by Professor Les Underhill and Dr Megan Loftie-Eaton – who produced a great deal of the new information used in this book. And the fact that it contains over 70% new photographs is due in part to all the LepiMAP photographers who kindly gave permission for the use of their images."
It is worth mentioning that the photographs show both male and female forms (where they differ) and also the upper sides and undersides (where possible) of butterflies. The photography is of superb quality. I found no trouble identifying at least three different kinds of butterflies in my garden during my lunch break – all thanks to the simple numbering system between the text and the images. I would have loved a tiny box in each image’s top right-hand corner where I could tick off that I had seen and identified a particular butterfly, though.
Field guide to butterflies of South Africa is a practical, easy-to-use guide that will surely afford the butterfly enthusiast years of happy butterfly hunting in a responsible, ethical manner. Go on, get out into your garden and start snapping away.
About the author
British-born Steve Woodhall has lived in South Africa for four decades. An amateur butterfly enthusiast and photographer, he has contributed to and edited several books, including A practical guide to butterflies and moths and Pocket guide to butterflies of South Africa. He is a former president of the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa.