The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland


While there are plenty of field guides to British butterflies, for those of us wanting to know more than just their identity, a gap in the market has existed since the first edition of this volume went quickly out of print in the early 1990s. This sumptuous second edition is almost a different book, with nearly 100 new paintings by Richard Lewington which are well up to his usual morphologically accurate yet aesthetically fulfilling standard.

However, the illustrations are far from the whole story. The large format of this volume has allowed both illustrator and author some breathing space, and the book is full of engrossing detail. The kind of ecological and life history knowledge which so fascinated the likes of J Henri Fabre are brought bang up to date for a popular audience, with thorough summaries of recent research incorporated into a flowing and readable text.

All the British species are shown in egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and imago form, along with different brood patterns, morphs and subspecies. Colour graphs indicate their seasonal timing, and there are many depictions of behaviour and eating and breeding signs on the respective plant specialisations. Several key parasitic flies and wasps are illustrated, and everything from warmth and shelter zones for Lulworth Skipper caterpillars on their grass clumps to roosting, resting and basking styles is presented visually.

Vagrancy and migratory occurrence are described for relevant species, and the likelihood of escape for Monarch and Geranium Bronze is discussed. In-depth reading of the text reveals details of development, conservation, recolonisation and lifestyle quirks and specialisations, such as the presence of adopted fungal poisons in the browns and the ant symbiosis of some blues and hairstreaks.

At a reasonable price for such a plushly presented volume, this is a definitive addition to the library of even the casual ‘lepper’.

Tech spec

  The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington (British Wildlife Publishing, Gillingham, 2010).

•    288 pages, 71 plates, 119 separate paintings, 23 line drawings, 70 maps.

   ISBN 9780956490209. Hbk, £24.95

Available from Birdwatch Bookshop

First published in Birdwatch 219:46 (September 2010).