More on Butterfly books

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Thu Nov 6 06:57:23 EST 1997

Yesterday I posted information on two books.  The price on the Pullin 
book is $80 not $70.

I neglected to emphasize one criticism aimed at the publisher, not the 
authors.  Chapman and Hall is obviously one of the unfortunately large 
number of publishers which does not capitalize the names of species.  
Contrary to style books written by non-biologists, the name of a species 
should be treated as a proper noun and capitalized.  Those who don't 
think English, colloquial, or common names should be used at all in 
publications about insects can ignore this point. 

The Pollard and Yates preface mentions: large heath and small heath. I 
might guess that these are two species, but they might just as well be 
two morphs of a species with seasonal or other polyphenism.  It's 
particularly rude since the name of Joseph Heath is capitalized on the 
same page.  There are dozens of examples where confusion instead of 
clarify arise to this practice.    

I have always found this irritating, and stubbornly capitalize common 
names on manuscripts I submit.  But it was a New York Times film review 
which Guy Tudor sent me, that convinced our publisher, Rutgers 
University Press, to let us pursue our whim and capitalize species 
names.  The film under review was Bridges of Madison County (which I 
personally didn't care for that much), and the reviewer chided the 
author for waxing poetic in the book's opening lines: "There are songs 
that come free from the blue-eyed grass."  "Is blue-eyed grass more 
sensitive than hazel-eyed grass" the reviewer wrote, accusing the author 
of "jabberwocky prose".  In fact the reviewer calls this "one of the 
all-time worst poetic images".   Well, if Blue-eyed Grass had been 
capitalized, the reviewer and the NY Times (which published the review 
in June 1995) might not have made the dumb mistake and would have 
realized that Blue-eyed Grass refers to a species (or in this case a 
genus).  Whether that really improves the poetic quality of the line 
in question is another matter. To be fair, they wouldn't have realized 
that the plant in question was not a grass at all. And lamentably the NY 
Times did not capitalize "jabberwocky" either.

Virtually all ornithological journals capitalize the common names of 
bird, insect, and plant species.  Many other biological journals (e.g., 
Conservation Biology, Behavioral Ecology, J. Lep. Soc) do not.   I was 
intrigued that Journal of Research on Lepidoptera used "Bay 
checkerspot", capitalizing Bay because it refers to a particular Bay 
which is helpful because I might have thought that "bay" referred to a 

There is no fundamental reason that a species name should not be 
considered a proper noun.  It harkens back to people probably 
thinking about "dog" and "cat".  Some of us in the East (not east in 
this case) use "california" as an adjective to describe a  laid-back 
person.  Does that neologism need to be capitalized.   The added cost of 
capitalizing letters is negligible. The benefits of clarifying 
communication are considerable. 

Michael Gochfeld   11/6/97

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