Butterflies Through Binoculars

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at eohsi.rutgers.edu
Fri Feb 26 21:03:13 EST 1999

Since the interchange last week, several people have asked me for more 
details on the new book by Jeff Glassberg which I had seen briefly two 
weeks ago.  Now that my copy is in hand I feel more confident in 
commenting on the book.  Firstly, a disclaimer.  I am favorably inclined 
towards the approach used in this book.  In writing our book on 
Butterflies of New Jersey, Joanna and I made the decision NOT to include 
anything on identification, since Glassberg's original book BUTTERFLIES 
THROUGH BINOCULARS (Boston to Washington DC) so adequately covered our 
area for a remarkably low price.  At the same time  Pyle's AUDUBON guide 
was available and the new Opler FIELD GUIDE was published, so we felt 
we were hardly justified trying to make another field guide. 

That said, I turned with anticipation to the new volume which is 
likewise published by Oxford University Press (New York) with a list 
price of $18.95. (ISBN 0-19-510668-7)  A friend purchased my copy for 
under $14 from one of the internet sites.  

There is some general introductory material aimed at the novice 
butterfly watcher (or butterflier).  

Each species account is cross-referenced to a color Plate and includes 
the general size (using some common species as references), brief notes 
on identification, habitat, abundance, brief information on hosts, and 
some general comments on status.  There is also a phenogram which 
includes the relative abundance for Wisconsin, New York, North Carolina 
and Louisiana. Critical field marks are highlighted in bold face. 

There are 71 color plates featuring the 629 plus photos of which 
Glassberg took 591.  Each plate has a size reference, and all of the 
photos on a given plate are to the same scale.  

I am no color expert, but I think that the color reproduction (at least 
in my copy) is very true as well as attractive.  For each species Males 
and female are shown where different, and both ventral and dorsal views 
are shown.  Whereas many of the older guides showed the dorsal views of 
butterflies such as blues and hairstreaks, one seldom sees these views 
in life, so the photos in this book are particularly valuable for field 

There will inevitably be some controversies regarding the ability to 
identify certain species in the field.  The Confused Cloudywing 
(Thorybes confusis) probably requires genital dissection to be sure of 
the identification.  I have heard the same claim made for the Hickory 
Hairstreak (Satyrium caryaeovrum), but I have photos of individuals 
which clear match the requisite field marks for this species which is 
rare in central New Jersey. 

Glassberg provides field marks for distinguishing the Appalachian Brown 
(Satyrodes appalachia) from the Eyed Brown (S. eurydice).  I must 
confess that I have had trouble applying these in the field, and it 
worries me when I find two Browns---one apparently of each species---at 
a location.  But there are certainly many other examples of butterfly 
systematics which will benefit from more detailed field work. 

Harry Pavulaan mentioned to me that there are two misidentified photos 
among the Azures (but I can't find his email at this moment). 

I was particularly impressed by the excellent photographic 
representation of so many of the Grass Skippers (Hesperidae) with dorsal 
views of male and female and at least one ventral view shown.  This is 
marked advantage in identifying these difficult creatures, although one 
should heed the warning that worn individuals should often be left 

Although I consider myself Cosmopolitan, it too me a while to realize 
that I must be a Yankee, since I was puzzled by the selection of Gulf 
Fritillary for the cover---a beautiful Gulf Fritillary---I might add.  

The book follows the North American Butterfly Association checklist of 
Common names, which is a major effort in standardizing such names.  I 
think it's a great idea, although the idea of having a "Northern 
Southern Hairstreak" leaves me cold.  I did not agree with the name 
chosen for this species.  

There are several production features that were mildly annoying. 
1) The type face is grey (as is evident when one looks at the boldface 
2)  The critical text facing the illustrations is in a small type face, 
obviously intended for novices under age 40.   For most of the plates 
the lower half of the facing pages is blank. 
3)  Finally, I really liked the more regional (Boston-Washington) range, 
whereas this covers the entire eastern U.S. including eastern North 
Dakota down to eastern Texas, which is both a strength and a weakness.  
I tried to convince the author to stick with the regional approach, but 
to no avail.

On the other hand having the range maps, small as they are, facing the 
plates, allows one to quickly include or discard a species that one is 
trying to identify. 

So in conclusion, this is a new book with a template similar to the 
original volume, but with mostly new illustrations and new text.  It is 
a steal, even at the list price. 

Michael Gochfeld 

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