Review: Butterflies of Europe iPhone App

This is a long overdue review of a relatively new entry in the iPhone app universe of butterfly guides.  LepLog readers may remember (or can review here) my 2012 review of the app Butterflies of Britain and Ireland (produced under the BirdGuides umbrella), and with BBI is virtually peerless in the butterfly app world, this new iPhone guide – Butterflies of Europe (BE), by Lepidapp Ltd. – has much to recommend it for those of you venturing across the pond or across the Channel.

The task of BE is formidable:  The area of coverage is vast (Europe, including parts of North Africa and the Atlantic islands of the Canaries, Azores and Madeira), many species are morphologically very similar, and the life histories of a number of species are not as well known as the British lep fauna.  But the site principals – Chris Manley, Matt Rowlings, Guy Padfield, and Peter Eeles – have done a mostly great job of cobbling together the information that does exist in a user-friendly way.

In full disclosure, I received a review version of this app early this spring, in anticipation of “kicking the tires” on a weeklong visit to Tuscany in mid-April.  iPhone in hand, I jumped right in when I reached Florence and headed straight to the Boboli Gardens on what would be the ONLY sunny day of my visit and the ONLY chance I had to see butterflies on that trip.  Luckily, two of the four species I saw that afternoon fresh off the plane gave Butterflies of Europe a good workout.

First butterfly out of the bushes at Boboli was (I later learned) a Brimstone.  Female, pale as chalk.  So I turned to BE, scanned the pictorial table of contents, and picked the category “Whites” to find my mystery pierid (at least I knew that much).  BE splits the discussions of pieries into the “whites,” “wood whites,” and the “yellows.”  First stop in the “whites” bucket were two rather skimpy introductory pages that at least let me rule out the orange tips and gave me a choice of either exploring the Pieris group or the Euchloe group; familiarity with marbles let me pass the latter up although the (rather skimpy) introductory text didn’t help too much. For the Pieris group I was told that these were some of the commonest species (but nothing about distinguishing characteristics) and for the Euchloe group I learned this included bath whites and dappled whites (only someone already familiar with the European fauna would get the distinction), although it confused me somewhat with the notation that some of the Euchloe were yellow.

I stuck with the Pieris group, and those of you who know Brimstone have already figured out I was doomed to failure.  After reviewing all the “face” pictures – the first pics you see when browsing a species – I was sure I had a Canary Islands Large White!!  But the “diagnosis” page – really the best part of this app, where there are photos with diagnostic marks and text superimposed – convinced me I was barking up the wrong tree even if I thought I had a Canary Island stray.

So I went back to the main page and checked out “wood whites” because I knew this was a pierid and it was white.  And this despite the fact that the “face” for the “yellows” was a male, bright yellow Brimstone.

Wood whites looked closer to what I was seeing, but all of them were flimsier and filmier.  What I had (in hand by this time) was a robust beast with falcate wingtips.  So I flipped to “yellows” and of course the third time was the charm.  The introduction to yellows carved out “clouded yellows” and “brimstones” – and the brimstones text helpfully noted the hooked wings and that females were greenish-white (more white than greenish in my case, but even good field guides can disagree on these distinctions).  And there I found Brimstone, and a diagnostic page – again, a really excellent addition that I wish both print and iPhone apps would use more often – gave the field marks for distinguishing Brimstone from Cleopatra.  Diving in more deeply, I checked out the quite detailed range maps (which showed me I was in the right area) and gave a nice species description with a narrative discussion of field and behavior notes.  An especially nice addition is a “My Notes” field in which one could record one’s one observation (presumably one adds subsequent sightings by moving the cursor to the end and typing in more; there does not seem to be a feature to add multiple sightings).  But the best feature was a page of “Similar Species,” the only drawback to which is that it’s just pictures to allow navigation to the other species rather than a point-by-point analysis.  This is especially problematic since tow of the four “similar species” have no photos in the dataset so I would have had to depend only on narrative descriptions.

Feeling a little more confident, I tackled my next species – Small Copper, flitting around on the wildflower-strewn bowl around the Neptune fountain.  This was something of a cheat, since we have the same species in the US where it’s known (hubristically) as American Copper, although it is almost certainly an early Colonial Period import.  The “face” pictures in the coppers section took me straight to Small Copper.

The third species gave me real fits.  It was a small, brown, very actively darting butterfly hanging around the foundations of some of the older stoneworks in the garden.  Clearly a nymphalid, so I went straight to the Nymphalidae section, where I had choices of “Artistocrats” (this has no equivalent in US lep nomenclature, but it appeared to be anglewings and such.  I browsed this section, even though the wings were rounded, because the critter I was studying had boundless nervous energy and was acting exactly like Comma, Ladies, Red Admiral, or Question Mark would in the States.  No match.  I ignored Satyrids because, in my US experience, NO satyr acts like this one did.  Frustrated by the fritillaries, I wondered where I had gone wrong.  The introductory info was not terribly helpful in this case, so I was reduced to browsing until I hit on the graylings, which looked awfully similar to what I had, but a good 20 minutes with that section proved a dead end.  In despair I went through pictures in the rest of the section, and almost gave up halfway through the “browns” (this didn’t act or really look like any of the slow, floppy browns I knew in the States).  But I persevered, and looked finally at something near what I was seeing, something enigmatically called a Wall Brown.  Well, at least it was hovering near walls.  But all I had gotten a good look at was the underside, and all but one picture of Wall Brown showed a very colorful orange-ish lep, and the one dorsal shot was MUCH more colorful than the specimen I was looking at.  Only by checking other photos on Google did I finally confirm the identification as Wall Brown, and after seeing another couple in various poses I was sure in my assessment.

The last species was another straight shot, a Cabbage White I knew from back home.

These four species – all I saw that trip – pointed me to the many excellent features a few drawbacks of Butterflies of Europe.  The diagnostic text and narrative really are just that, but the “similar species” could use narrative in addition to guide pictures.  The navigation is a bit clunky, requiring much use of the “back” function and lacking the seamless forward slideshow function of Butterflies of Britain and Ireland (BBI).  BBI also has it over BE hands down in visual depiction of phenograms and in sheer illustrations:  BBI has all stages and both drawings and natural photos, while BE often lacks pictures of the adults (and doesn’t even substitute drawings or paintings, which would help tremendously) and never has illustrations of other life stages in this version.

For a non-European lepster, BE takes much for granted that I would not ordinarily have known, especially in the matter of using colloquial names for buckets of butterflies that don’t translate into American-ese.

But these are quibbles for a genuinely herculean app, and one I wish I could convince someone here in the US to emulate.

I plead abundance of caution in not getting this review out earlier; I had planned to give it another head-to-head test with BBI on a weeklong jaunt to Scotland and northern England two weeks ago, but alas the weather (though sunny and bright) in Scotland was cool and yielded no butterflies, and the rest of the trip fell during the torrential rains and storms that plagued Britain for a week.  So the one:one comparison will have to wait for another day!

  • $16.99 from iTunes
  • Category: Reference
  • Released: Feb 08, 2012
  • Version: 1.0
  • Size: 407 MB
  • Language: English
  • Seller: Lepidapp Ltd
  • © Lepidapp Ltd

Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

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