Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies


  • Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies by Peter Eeles (NatureBureau, Berkshire, 2019).
  • 394 pages, 1,300+ colour photos, colour distribution maps.
  • ISBN 9781874357889. Pbk, £35.
  • Bookshop from £32.99

Having heard of its publication last year, it was with great excitement that I opened up a copy of Peter Eeles's Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies when it arrived on my desk recently.

And, having studied this immaculately presented book, it's safe to say that it has very much lived up to expectations.

There are already some excellent field guides to British and Irish butterflies in existence, but this is an altogether different beast – much more encyclopaedic in its nature, each of the 60 species covered is attributed its own chapter in which everything in its life cycle is covered, from egg to adult.

Species accounts are organised by family, with a two-page introduction to each family addressing taxonomic breakdown and general pointers on typical features shown by species within. The begins with Papilionidae (Swallowtail) and concludes with Lycaenidae (blues, hairstreaks and coppers).

The opening page of each species account clearly sets out both English and Latin names and is illustrated by a typical habitat shot and life-cycle diagram, showing egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult, as well as a graph showing an annual breakdown of when each stage of the species may be encountered. This is followed by an introduction and then extensive and exhaustive sections on distribution, habitat, status and life cycle.

This is no doubt aided by the presentation of this book. With such a profusion of stunning imagery on show throughout, it's a visually stimulating title and, in all honesty, it wouldn't be hard to spend hours simply pouring over the images and their captions! With imagery of every species at all stages of life, including all instars of the caterpillars, there is so much to absorb and learn.

This topic could easily become a little heavy in parts for anyone but the genuine enthusiast, but Eeles has a communicative and patient writing style which exhibits clarity and eloquence. Add to that his immense background knowledge and obvious enthusiasm and passion, and it makes for enjoyable and informative content. There are so many nuggets of information here, especially for the less well-versed butterfly enthusiast like myself – who knew, for example, that there was so much historical confusion behind the naming of Pearl-bordered and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries?

Eeles is quick to stress his gratitude to and respect for the legendary lepidopterist, F W Frowhawk, and his seminal Natural History of British Butterflies, which was published back in 1924. Ninety-five years on, and with the benefits of a vastly advanced knowledge base and modern luxuries such as digital photography, it is no exaggeration to say that this is the now the magnum opus for its subject. At its retail price, it offers superb value for money and will stand proudly on any nature enthusiast's bookshelf. Anyone who purchases a copy will undoubtedly find their knowledge enriched by this bible of British and Irish butterflies, and it will also act as a wonderful reference and identification guide to boot.