A Tale of Two Field Guides — Illinois and Indiana

For many of us, ‘tis the season to give field guides as presents. And 2014 gave me two new field guides to peruse, one (Butterflies of Indiana) that actually came out in 2013, and the new Butterflies of Illinois that just became available. Both are exceptional supplemental guides for those of us in the mid-Atlantic, since a great deal of the butterfly faunas of Illinois and Indiana is shared with Maryland and surrounding states. And both offer outstanding features not found in the traditional guides we usually carry around with us (Kaufman, my go-to guide, or any of Glassberg’s titles).

Butterflies of Indiana, 2013, Indiana University Press.

Butterflies of Indiana, 2013, Indiana University Press.

Butterflies of Indiana: A Field Guide, by Jeffrey E. Belth. Indiana University Press, 2013, 344 pp. [$16.22 in paperback or $9.99 for the Kindle version from Amazon; $20 in paperback from IUP, or $17.99 as an ebook.]   I’ve carried Belth’s Butterflies of Indiana around all summer, either in my field bag or in the car, having acquired it last spring after seeing a note about it on the Iowa butterflies listserv. And while it doesn’t cover EVERY butterfly I’m likely to see regionally, it hits about 90 percent and adds some good ID and natural history information missing from national guides like Kaufman and Glassberg.

The Indiana guide is one of the many fine offerings of the Indiana Natural Science Series edited for IUP by Gillian Harris, and it won the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award for best Nature Guidebook – and deservedly so. Until the Illinois guide came out this year, Butterflies of Indiana was hands down the most complete natural history field guide I’d seen. The high points of this field guide start with the cover – a flexible water resistant coat covering a pocket-sized (~5 x 9) book that fits easily in a back pocket or field bag. And you can tell right away that this guide is designed for a range of audiences: The inside front cover and frontispiece are a guide to differentiating moths from butterflies and skippers, and the following six pages constitute a “quick key” to the major butterfly groups. The species accounts, usually several to a page, are supplemented by color photographs (about 500 of them, with notes about location and date in a special appendix at the back of the book) in cut-out fashion – that is, against a plain white background. Each account has a range map of where the butterfly can be found in Indiana, and across the top of each account is a phenogram showing when the adult is on the wing. Field marks are numbered in the text and refer to diagnostic arrows on the photo. Species that could easily be confused with the species under discussion are often illustrated next to it; so, for example, the illustrations of Dusted Skipper include a side-by-side comparison of Common Roadside-skipper. The pages are lightly glossed, so there’s no glare under a hot summer sun in a baking field of dogbane.

There are other really helpful tips, too, like an enlarged photo of the wing scales to help differentiate Spring and Summer Azure; a “criminal lineup” of all four morphs (overwintering male and female, and summer male/female) of both Comma and Question Mark; and illustrations of all three Indiana morphs of Common Wood-nymph. Taxonomy is up to date, too – Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail has its own species account. There are several pages devoted to day-flying moths, 10 pages of immatures (eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids), and – mirabilis dictu! – 28 pages of larval food hosts complete with ID tips to plant taxonomy. There’s a quick index on the back flap, and a more comprehensive index of key terms, species, food plants, and other content in the book.

But Butterflies of Indiana really shines for its general natural history information, from geology of Indiana to tips for watching, studying, and collecting butterflies. The statement on collecting of The Lepidopterist’s Society is a welcome appendix, too. As one of the reviewers notes at Amazon, if he could design a near-perfect field guide, Butterflies of Indiana would be it.

Butterflies of Illinois, 2014, Illinois Natural History Survey.

Butterflies of Illinois, 2014, Illinois Natural History Survey.

Butterflies of Illinois: A Field Guide (Manual 14). Michael R. Jeffords, Susan L. Post, and James R. Wiker, designed by Danielle M. Ruffato. Illinois Natural History Survey, 440 pages. [$24 in paperback from Amazon; $20 from the Illinois Natural History Survey, no ebook version available]. Butterflies of Illinois gives Butterflies of Indiana a run for its money as a dream field guide. Also available in the 5 x 9 field guide format, the extra hundred pages in the Illinois guide come as a consequence of devoting a two-page spread to each species in the Illinois fauna. One of the acclaimed Illinois Natural History Survey manuals, Manual 14 is an update in name only of the previous edition – this field guide is so completely renovated as to be an entirely different animal.

The species accounts each occupy a two-page spread illustrated with large, bright photographs – of the adult in nature on the left side of the spread, and life-size photographs in cut-out mode against a white background on the right. Each species account has photos of both topside and underside aspects, a distribution map, a flight period phenogram, and field notes that describe diagnostic marks keyed to arrows pointing to the marks on a photo. The real advantage of the two-page spread approach is that almost a full page for each species can be devoted to a full description, a note about species it could be confused with, natural history and ecology of the species, and its conservation status. The photographs are also matte rather than glossy to prevent field glare.

A section I find really helpful (although I haven’t been in the field with this guide yet), is a collection of “Commonly Confused Illinois Butterflies.” There’s a two-page spread of uppersides (and a companion two-page spread of undersides) of the “swallowtail mimicry complex” – Pipevine, Black, Spicebush, and black-morph female Tiger swallowtails, plus Red-spotted Purple. I plan to dog-ear the spread on undersides of confusing banded hairstreaks – Hickory, Banded, Striped, Edwards’, Northern, and Gray. (Note: And just in time, too – I learned a new field mark for Hickory Hairstreak now in both of these guides not covered in my other old standbys that made short work of a post by Bryan Reynolds today on leps-talk of six questionable hairstreaks!). Butterflies of Illinois is also taxonomically updated, with a description of Joan’s Swallowtail (even though the authors note that this species from the Missouri Ozarks has not yet been documented in Illinois) and with separate descriptions of Baltimore Checkerspot and Ozark Checkerspot.

Another handy tool that Jeffords et al provide is a quick picture guide to all species in the book (uppersides as a two-page spread of thumbnails as the first two pages of the book, and undersides on the last two pages). Like Butterflies of Indiana, it has a nice state checklist as an appendix.  Readers (and buyers) should note, though, that the comprehensive species accounts come at the expense of covering skippers — Butterflies of Illinois ONLY covers true butterflies, not skippers.

For clarity of pictures and field marks, I’d give the edge to Butterflies of Illinois. For natural history information and host plant guide, and for coverage of skippers, I’d go for Butterflies of Indiana. Both will become part of my car trunk collection, although I also appreciate the fact that I can carry Butterflies of Indiana with me in the field on my iPad mini in its Kindle version. I can’t imagine anyone on my holiday wish list not wanting one or both in their stockings this year.

This entry was posted in checklists, general butterfly news, Identification tips, Review, state butterflies and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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