Category Archives: Insects

Shieldbugs by Jones, 2023

Shieldbugs by Richard Jones. No. 147 in the New Naturalist Series.ISBN 978-0-00-833489-5   9-780008334895.  452pp. RRP £65.

 The author has written a previous New Naturalist Series (NNS) book on Beetles (No.136, 2018), and Shieldbugs is presented with the same vigour and analysis that this expert entomologist gives his books. Covid gave him the opportunity to delve deeply into this group of small and sometimes colourful insects – producing a lockdown special – a very discursive one at that. The author admits to ‘verbose fact boxes and obsessive footnotes’ which I like, the more annotations the better.

The NNS books are mostly British-centric, but authors are always tempted to reference species from overseas particularly when the group they are talking about is biodiverse. Such is the case with this title. The author says that the book is ‘mainly about shieldbugs of the British Isles’, but that he occasionally makes references to exotic species including, for instance, edible species in Africa. He allowed himself this diversion in his other NNS book

Jones introduces us to the 79 species of British shieldbugs, the 11 species in the Channel Islands and 16 other species which are potential colonists to these islands. He admits to shieldbug distribution ‘skewed to the southeast’ which makes it a little unfair on entomologists north of the Thames. Climate change has affected the range of shieldbugs just like most insects, in this case incursions such as the Southern Green Shieldbug (arrived 2003). He presents data on even the latest shieldbug to the British list, the Trapezium Shieldbug discovered in East Sussex in 2019.

Slightly less than half the book is text, the remainder a key and descriptions of species illustrated with lots of colour photographs. Most of the shieldbugs are small, brown or black, some with white spots, resulting in identification difficulties – many cleared-up here. There are a number with striking red and black colour and this stands out in the book as if the author likes these shieldbugs particularly (I don’t blame him) and the greatest exemplar is The Firebug is expertly illustrated on the cover. His daughter drew the line drawings in the identification key.

Shieldbugs This is a book that is essential to be on the bookshelf of all those who collect NNS and entomologists in general. It is far too heavy for use in the field, only for reference and verification after fieldwork, for which it is now a definitive key work.  This book thus fills the yawning gap since Southwood and Leston’s 1959 book on Land and Water Bugs. Today there is also a 35pp ‘Provisional atlas of shieldbugs and allies’ (2018) by Tristan Bantock (for the Terrestrial Heteroptera Recording Scheme) which can be downloaded to a mobile phone for use in the field.

The book is written with a sense of humour and a great deal of passion which shines through – giving this generally drab group colour.  Without all this being ‘flippant nonsense’ he writes (and says don’t write in), he has actually designated collective nouns for 16 species that have the tendency to live together in groups – perhaps an attempt to dissuade predators. Two that come to mind, the glamorous firebug is an ‘Inferno of Firebugs’ and the Common dock bug, is a ‘Coven of Dock Bugs’. This is hardly flippant stuff, it is useful that someone has given some time to describe what is going in the hitherto world of unreported bugs.  So it all adds up to the increased knowledge on this group that this NNS addresses.

The colour photography has been sourced principally from Shutterstock and Wikimedia and the author’s colleagues – small shieldbugs are not too easy to shoot, at least to get some reasonable shots showing identification features, but this has been overcome. The production of the book is up to the usual high standards of the NNS with indexes and references.

Vicar of Amazon – by Howse

Vicar of the Amazon, The Reverend Arthur Miles Moss, in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace. By Philip Howse.  Published by Butterflies and Amazonia.  Hardback ISBN 978-1-7398856-0-1  eBook ISBN 978-1-7398855-1-8.  243pp.


It was only in the last twenty years that a series of coincidences occurred to the author that the life and works of The Reverend Arthur Miles Moss is told in this book. Moss was born in 1872 in Liverpool, raised in his formative years in the Lake District, went to Cambridge after Darwin and was ordained Deacon of Chester the year after graduation. He was already a keen lepidopterist when he went up to University, a keen painter, played on the huge organ in Kendal Parish Church and published an appreciation of poetry. This was a typical multi-talented Reverend of the time who was a keen lepidopterist. In 1901 he was a Norwich Cathedral, still collecting in his spare time, publishing items in The Entomologist, and in 1902 he went on a Grand Tour including a butterfly collecting expedition to Switzerland.  The Lake District and the Cambridge hinterland set the scene for his love of the great outdoors, and it is no surprise that much of his collection of pinned butterflies and moths, and ‘blown’ caterpillars are in the Kendall Museum; his note books of that period were lost.

The Rev. Moss was posted to the Amazon in 1907, yes, the whole of the Amazon was his ministry, a vast area from the mouth of the Amazon in Belém (known then as Pará) to the Andes, most of the Amazon being Brazil. He was granted free passage on ships up and down the coast and across the Amazon to Peru, some 60,000 miles of navigable waterway was his parish.   Moss was there for almost 40 years and he even had an organ with him.  He had followed in some of the footsteps of Darwin in the Beagle down the west coast of South America 70 years earlier, whilst issues of yellow fever and plague still persisted in the various ports of call.

Moss was an industrious chap. Prof. Prance, Former Director of Kew states in the Foreword, that he has been to most of the places that Moss had been too, had noted the many plants that bear Moss’s name and noted the various herbarium specimens in various locations, and lamented that the once almost pristine rainforest that Moss went have now been logged-out, Belém now has over two million people. Moss’s church is still there.  So Moss was not only a capable field botanist but a lepidopterist which is the main subject of this book.

A rediscovered cache of over 100 watercolours of insects from the Amazon were found by the author in the Natural History Museum, many of them now used in this book. The author is Emeritus Professor Phillip Howse from the University of Southampton and is the author of many award-winning books colourful on butterflies. Mimicry is brought finely into focus throughout with colour photographs showing caterpillars and butterflies next to animals of the rainforest that they have intimately mimicked, for instance the Dynastor butterfly that looks like the head and shoulders of a piranha (he had an obsession with the butterfly) whose caterpillar has projections that mimic eggs, and the pupa looks like the head of a snake, or the Great Silkmoth whose distal parts of its forewings are snakelike, or even the small hesperid pupa that also looks like a snake ‘a terrifying’ pupa of Bangalotis erythrus.   Moss was also smitten by the stunning vermillion and blue Agrias claudia and went on many expeditions to find it. Moths as wasp mimics with warning colours, hawk-moth caterpillars that also mimic snakes, or bizarre lantern bugs, or owl moths with ‘eyes’ a common disguise across the living world were the subject that caught his attention. Or, the dramatic ‘monkey slug caterpillar’ looking just like a tarantula. The Amazon is like this: biodiverse, bewildering and inextricable.

There is some discussion in the book on the veracity of natural selection then and now, but deep in the hot-spots of the Amazon rainforest species diversity is so prolific that natural interactions are highly likely to evolve when species are living, and trying to stay alive when living cheek by jowl. We are talking millions of years ago, so evolution has had plenty of time to make subtle changes that are beneficial.  Moss’s notebooks are filled with illustrations of camouflage in caterpillars and pupa, a subject explored later by the celebrated expert on colour in animals Hugh Cott.

Moss travelled high in Peru, collected a small moth (which was eventually found to be new to science, 80 years later – thanks to Claude Lemaire working in the Natural History Museum). This was a land full of adventure. His train was boarded by ‘brigands’, one person shot dead, but he survived. He was known in Peru as a pioneering naturalist. Today naturalists ‘do’ the Manu trail in Peru because it is still a hot-spot for biodiversity.

The famous rainforest explorers Wallace and Bates had been in the Amazon in 1845 and employed slaves as cooks, but slavery was abolished when Moss was there in 1912.  Moss was always fascinated by the process of metamorphosis and bred quite a lot of species out. He also caught and sold materials for collectors and sponsors in Europe, especially Lord Walter Rothschild, Miriam Rothschilds uncle.

Working at the edge of the un-exploited rainforest Moss was amazed at the sheer quantity of moths that came to light, in some case they were so thick on the ground that bins of them had to be taken away when the streets were cleaned.  He recalls the travel observations of Theodore Roosevelt and his son in the Amazon, and the paintings by Margaret Fontaine, and of course the travels and discoveries of Richard Spruce. There is also a nod to Nabokov. The Amazon is a large area, and still is a large area over which many have travelled and few have written natural history travel books.

The author has brought us a delight to the eyes on part of the extensive work of this English vicar in the Amazon even if he was always catching butterflies rather than tending his flock. The book demonstrates that it has been intensely researched in both the UK and South America much to the benefit of the reader. There is much history of entomology woven through this important work.  It is certainly a good read that should be in all rainforest themed libraries.    There are appendices, further reading and an index.

Butterflies…by Philip Howse

Butterflies, Messages from Psyche, by Philip Howse, 2010, Published by Papadakis (An imprint of New Architecture Ltd, Winterbourne, Berkshire). 192p. ISBN 9 781 901 092806.  ISBN. 978 1901092806. Large 24x30cm.

I would of course be biased in the review of this book as it has the Cabbage White on its cover, and I did my PhD thesis on this very successful species that has colonised much of the northern hemisphere and is doing its best in the south.  I am also biased because I love butterflies, have written several books on butterflies, have worked and published with Dame Miriam Rothschild on butterflies, as she loved butterflies too. In fact my 157 letters from her are precious.  She is mentioned by the author of this book alongside Darwin, Wallace, Bates, Fabre, Hinton and, as Howse says she ‘stands apart amongst entomologists , and the basis of many of my ideas have come from reading her publications.’  I would agree, and this Psyche book reminds me of one particular book by Miriam ‘Butterfly cooing like a Dove’ (Doubleday, 1991).  For Psyche think Keats ‘Ode to Psyche’.

Philip Howse is also a butterfly lover, and the book is butterfly-centric throughout, not forgetting moths, especially day-flying ones which have to express themselves rather better than nocturnal ones.  Miriam was always fascinated by the reasons for everything, particularly colour, and she told me many times that there must be a reason for every particular colour on an insect, even if you have not worked out what it is. Of course, we have worked out what makes colour chemically, about pigmental colours, and structural colours, and how  caterpillars sequester particular pigments for ornament, or poisons for defence, but the world is more evolutionary-sophisticated than that; there is the world of eyes and shapes and ‘clever’ visual deception that has evolved too, in a world replete with merciless hungry predators.

What Howse, and Miriam before him, have tried to do, is interpret the complicated and superbly biodiverse world of insects and other invertebrates, an almost impossible task as there are 40K invertebrates in Britain as an example.  The book reminds me a wander through the rooms of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam with a plethora of fine detail of marginal insects popping up as if they were always part of the countryside scene, which is what they were then. Not add-ons in today diminishing biodiverse world.    

In the world of art through time much has been inspired by nature. This book brings together some of the earliest examples from cave paintings, the apparent symbolic patterns on insects, such as the death’s head hawk moth – with  discourses on ‘skulls and symbols’, snakes, eyes, bird icons and goddesses as chapter headings.

What one has to consider is that here we are trying to interpret the myriad of colours and designs that have taken millions of years to evolve, possibly at least a million years before man was even evolved. Natural Selection is a powerful thing, and Howse sets about providing explanations of how living things have evolved together, mammals and insects, birds and insects, plants and insects, and how insects have taken advantage of the great biodiversity of life to successfully integrate themselves into the environment without being eaten. Continued good luck to them. A good deal of subjects in the book are aposematic i.e. ‘want to be seen’ with their bright symbolic colours and designs, other than cryptic or camouflaged, or both when in different situations (‘clever’).  We are just outsiders looking in. Invertebrates are the most successful animals on earth.

Who would put a caiman and a lantern fly together on a page, but Howse has? I have been in the Amazon and marvelled at the bizarre shape of lantern flies, and handled baby caiman and not considered the connection.   But yes, why not.  We have in this book a glimpse into the diverse world of colour deception.  Bates and Muller were both engaged in trying to explain mimicry, so too Miriam and Howse.  

This book is a tribute to mimicry in butterflies and mimicry examples pervade the book, butterflies with eyes, butterflies with spines, butterflies like leaves etc.  To survive in the living world butterflies must evolve, fast, to deceive and become invisible.  I particularly liked the juxtaposition of the fox’s face and eyed-hawk moth, or the robin and the Meadow Brown butterfly, or even kestrels and fritillaries.

Philip Howse OBE was a lecturer at Southampton University and this is one of his many books. The book is large format,  professionally produced as a superb photographic book, picture-perfect colour reproduction with full pages of butterflies and more butterflies.  There is an index and chapter notes for further information.  Overall a delight; especially as it has such a striking aposematic butterfly on its cover. 


Silent Earth by Goulson 2021


Silent Earth, Averting the Insect Apocalypse, by Dave Goulson, Published by Jonathan Cape, London in 2021. (imprint of Vintage which is part of Penguin Random House, London.) 328pp. Hardback £20. ISBN 978-1-787-33334-5  &  9 781787 333345  A review:

Hot on the heels of other books on the impending disaster to affect the wildlife world we live in, this is another that adds to the debate. It seems that lockdown has had a positive effect on the productivity of all authors. But this assessment of the decline of insects is from an academic for consumption by the general public. And he is good at it, converting scientific facts, arguments and counter-argument into some interesting discussion. The author is Prof.  Dave Goulson, lecturer at the University of Sussex, who, when he is not writing books, looks after freshers giving them a tour of the campus to assess their readiness to understand the living world, identifying the common birds and the bees (which they do very poorly). His lecturing circuit of about 40 lectures a year allow him to assess audiences, and he agrees that talking to primary school schoolchildren is more fulfilling as they pay attention and are enthralled, compared to secondary pupils. He sees a drift of grey hairs in some of the older audiences and they also are more keyed into what is happening. He says that about 90% of the population could not care less about the environment, and he is right, possibly higher. This is however a flaw in his halting the apocalypse. Will they all respond?

There are five sections of the book, Why Insects Matter, Insect Declines, Causes, Where are we headed? and What we can do? in all 21 chapters. Each chapter is quite short and succinct and reads without giving specific references (making the text a better read), but the references are at the back of the book under chapter headings if anyone wants to fact-check Goulson’s comments and threads.  The author draws on his own academic published work, and his travels around the world making observations.  Having just reviewed McGavin’s audio book on insects (All Creatures Small and Great), both authors have used the same published work, whether it is the German experience of declining insects or the Knepp experience of wilding, and drawing on the quoted works of Carson, EO Wilson, Fabre, Monbiot or Attenborough.  It is surprising how there is a relatively small body of work on declining species out there, that everyone quotes. The difference with this book and the others is that Goulson supports all his commentaries with graphs and scientific evidence – almost, but not quite, at the level of a textbook. Most pages are enlightening, and the book can be dipped into to get a different flavour. There are at least ten books I have around me here on the impending Armageddon and the story is the same, the relatively few references the same, Carson being the first key witness.

So where does Goulson really stand. He is an optimist. He says on the flyleaf ‘it is not too late for insect populations to recover’. Attenborough also says that on television. That does not fit comfortably with the 90% who do not care less. Even the sub-title is optimistic ‘averting the insect apocalypse’. Topically he has one chapter on life in the future after the apocalypse several decades on, and another chapter on how to get things right before the apocalypse, education, involvement at local level and getting involved in politics. Goulson also muses on Rumsfeld’s ‘knowns and unknowns’ and ‘unknown knowns’ in the biodiverse insect world. He also has a chapter on ‘Bauble Earth’ about light pollution and effects on wildlife, also very topical at the moment.

Goulson is a bee expert and he often refers to his other books (three out of five on bees and bumblebees) and one has the feeling that one should have read his The Garden Jungle before writing this review as he often refers to it.  His appraisal of the effects of neonics on bees is excellent. Curiously, various vignettes on the peculiarities of a handful of insects are placed at the end of the chapters, not related to the subject matter, but the tiniest peek into the world’s biodiversity that we might loose, such as the earwig with two penises if you have ever seen it in the first place.   With the insect world in Britain of 27K species these are not key to the message of the book, and therefore a distraction, perhaps an entrée into the bizarre world of biodiverse insects for a new book?

Insects by McGavin 2022

All Creatures Small and Great. How insects make the World.  An audiobook written and narrated by Dr George McGavin. MP3 (14 hours). Published by WFH Original (W.F. Howes), £16.99   ISBN: #9781004073344    Link on Audible:   A review:


For those who have not come across George McGavin on the radio or on the TV he is a passionate, if not unique spirit of ecology who now works in the media but was once a lecturer at Oxford. We learn a lot about the life of McGavin, an early interest in bugs in Edinburgh from the age of 12 through to his latest tribute to the parlous state of insects worldwide. In some ways I thought this was a promo for The Royal Entomological Society (RES) as it so insect-centric (which I applaud) and one of its nine guest contributors is the president of the RES, Prof. Helen Roy – a ladybird authority. But insects rule the world with their complete mastery of numbers and diversity and put other classes to shame in biodiversity. McGavin says confidently that they will be around on Earth well after our own demise. Therein is the issue that grips McGavin throughout this audiobook. The relentless decline in species, that McGavin reminds us several times that he has experienced in his lifetime. We all have.  You can feel that he feels wounded as an entomologist that his subjects are disappearing, even species that could be useful that will become extinct before they are discovered (a very familiar and true refrain) with steady on-going rainforest loss that no one seems to be able to stop. He does not refrain from speaking the truth, whether it is rainforest loss just to grow new crops (oil palms, soya), burning peat for shooting, cutting verges or ‘unnecessary street lights’.  One of his most animated interviews is with the inimitable fly-centric Dr Eric McAlister particularly on the fruit-fly – 60% of whose 15.000 decoded genes are found in humans (a common ancestry) which cause cancer, offering hope for remedies for various diseases. He calls the fruit-fly ‘arguably the most important insect in the world’ – vying with the house fly as the most dangerous.  Like many TV reporters he asks many questions such as why and how we got into this mess, where have all the insects gone, and so what if they go extinct? But he does give answers. He talks to Sir David Attenborough to see if he has any answers to which he is told that he receives 50-70 letters a day, mostly, now from concerned youngsters. Attenborough’s solution is to i) individually do not waste food, space, fuel, paper etc, ii) that those who have an elected voice should appreciate the international point of view of the worldwide dilemma and do something, and iii) that that there is a need to get politicians to set out remedial measures.  Maybe we have all got it wrong, McGavin invokes Genesis 9.7 ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Yes, says McGavin we have done that, and spoilt the world. We have become complacent and here McGavin says that we have all fallen into the ‘Shifting Benchmark Syndrome’ where the gradual decline of species (example Passenger Pigeon) is easily missed and extinction occurs. He laments his windscreens not being encrusted with a pâté of insects, something we have all noted, and now wonder where they all went.  40% of all insects are now threatened with extinction towards an Eco-Armageddon. There have been mass extinctions before, 250yrs ago at the end of the Permian ‘The Great Dying’ but that was because of acidification of the oceans and gross volcanic activity. Insects at that time did not become widely extinct. Now we are told we are ‘in the middle of a mass extinction event’ the Anthropocene, during this The Age of the Human.  With difficulty we must triage what to save, which insect species we need to save.  We are told by Prof. Philip Stevenson (Kew Gardens) that two out of five plants are now currently at risk of extinction. There is discussion on over-production of food, that an area the size of China produces food that is wasted each year, and that the energy and greenhouse gases to produce it could be saved.  There are moments in the audiobook that McGavin reverts to describing in detail the autecology of various species, such as the honeybee (excellent account), the cochineal beetle, the stag beetle, the galls of oak trees or the Colorado Beetle – all a background for a younger audience, and harking back to this lecturing days.  He gets very annoyed at the phrase Save the Planet when the planet is actually fine, it has looked after itself OK for the last 4.5 billion years and insects in general are always OK. As a good storyteller, McGavin tells us of his adventures mothing in Papua New Guinea where he is ‘ecstatic’ by the diversity of moths to his moth trap, or under the clear skies of Africa. McGavin gets us up to date with neonicinoids in the environment and their potential effects on honeybees. A lot of what he says is backed up with reference to recent research. He quotes E.O. Wilson (we all do) and John Muir; he talks about ‘bee vomit’ (honey) from honeybees and the ‘insect spittle’ (silk) from the silkmoth now extinct in the wild. These descriptions are very appealing to youngsters, and to this end the book is pitched for a very general audience from children right up to all adults interested in the natural environment and what is happening to it, even ecologists, entomologists and naturalists.  There is a very good section on ‘A Natural Pharmacy’ (the audiobook is full of named sections) where the plant world is shown to be a natural pharmacy of useful ‘secondary plant substances’ or scientifically as Prof Philip Stevenson says are ‘Secondary Metabolites’. This is an area much to my own interest especially with the suite of carotenoids and their overlooked importance in inverts and humans.  Much discussion is had on caffeine which in concentration is antagonistic or a deterrent to honeybees (for instance) but in dilution appears to be a stimulant to improve the bee’s carrying out its pollination duties.

There is measured frustration in McGavin’ s voice that the message of the insect decline is not being heard or heeded, as we have all been banging on about this for decades. There have been other voices before about the loss of habitat, such as Marion Shoard, Norman Moore, Graham Harvey, and more recently Elizabeth Kolbert on the 6th extinction and Dave Goulson (with his Silent Earth), but McGavin’s is more a more direct and approachable, well-rounded interpretation, as always backed up with scientific evidence, even though the truth is not heeded.  This topic needed to be aired as an audiotape (14 hours), even if it’s dark message that can be listened-to during a long car journey through a clean windscreen. It has great educational value and should be required ‘reading’ for all schools.


Dr John Feltwell (Naturalist Dr John Feltwell has visited New and Old World rainforests and has written over 40 books including his own on Rainforests, conservation, global warming etc).

British Moths by Lowen

British Moths, A Gateway Guide, a field guide to the common moths of Britain and Ireland.  2021. Bloomsbury Wildlife. 224pp. £15.29 on-line.   Ring-bound and e-edition available. ISBN 978-1-4729-8738-9    9 781472 987389   A review

My review copy arrived just after the Saharan dust arrived on 16 March 2022 and I had installed the moth trap to see which North African moths had hitched a ride to the UK.  So I got out this book and tested the identification. The book is arranged seasonally, that is to say if you are starting to trap moths in 2022 then it begins helpfully with ‘Spring Moths’ – and yes a lot of the moths were present and easy to identify.  The author has illustrated pages such as ‘chestnut-brown noctuids’ and ‘beige and reddish-brown noctuids’ and ‘spring-like quakers’. The noctuids are a big and diverse group and there are many overlapping and confusing features thrown in with individual variation, so many of the similar-looking species are a nightmare for moth newcomers. The ring-bound nature of the book is good for use in the field when opening a moth trap and examining species in the presence of fascinated ‘mothers’.  Although the UK list of moths is about 2,500 species, this book includes 350 species of the most common and eye-catching species. Some of the common micros are also included. The standard of the close-up photographs is good and the identification features are shown in the photos with precise annotations. James Lowen is already a Bloomsbury Wildlife author who also written ‘Much Ado About Mothing’ (also in 2021). Lowen comes out with some intriguing categories for the ever-confusing noctuids through the seasons, where he calls them ‘Little Brown Jobs’ – referring to the ornithological parlance for difficult avifauna. In comparison, birds are easy to identify, moths are so much more difficult and more appropriate for the epithet.  Moths have taken diversity to a completely different level. The whole range of common moths are included from hawk-moths, emeralds, waves, pugs, footmen, tigers, sallows and underwings. At the beginning of the book there is a section on the joy of moths, how to see moths, and how to identify moths. There is a subject index, but no glossary or further information. There are other moth identification books that go into much greater detail, but this is a neat, useful and trap-side identification book in full colour, which is fits nicely into a jacket pocket, and is recommended for all beginners and amateurs who venture into the great world of moths.  No, no Saharan moths graced my trap, but many local common moths were present and the book was found to be useful.   John Feltwell.

Butterflies of Serra Dos Orgaos, 2020

Bizarro, J. and Martin, A., 2020. A Guide to the Butterflies of the Serra Dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil. REGUA publications. ISBN: 978-0-9568291-2-2  389pp  Review

As guide books go, this is not one for the pocket, but this is a magnificent tome (20x24cm) which depicts in perfect colour all the known butterflies of this part of SE Brazil. It is in English, but if it were in Portugese as well it would be twice as long.

The book includes a total of 923 species of butterfly recorded to date from the Serra Dos Orgaos in the State of Rio de Janeiro.  This includes the very difficult skippers (120 species) which have only been given general descriptions. That leaves 803 butterfly species are described completely with Scientific and Common names, descriptions, similar species, distribution and ecology. There are 58 species which are listed as Threatened in Brazil, and 14 of these which are found in the area, are included too. There is so much natural habitat in the REGUA lowlands to the ridge line of the Organ Mountains (2,260 m) to be explored that many more butterfly species will be discovered. Butterfly lovers wanting to discover new butterfly species need to head for the REGUA reserve.  Also included in the book are 5 butterfly species that are waiting to be described and named, one Symmachia sp. three satyrs and one Gorgythion skipper.

The authors include Dr Jorge Bizarro with a background in medical entomology and a passion for butterflies, and Alan Martin FLS, a renowned ornithologist and professional accountant who has fully embraced an enthusiasm for lepidoptera with a background in helping some of the leading UK and global conservation NGOs.  Other publications from REGUA include ‘A Guide to Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in 2011 and ‘A Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in    and ‘A guide to Birds of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in 2015. So this is REGUA’s fourth publication, a credit to their professional output.

Extensive field work carried out by the authors and their many colleagues at the field station in REGUA has enabled this comprehensive compilation of butterflies of the area. It is in an area that Charles Darwin visited, and it still offers naturalists alike the opportunity to explore, discover and describe wildlife. The illustrations in the book, some 88 plates are key to identifying the species, all reproduced in superb colour, 15 species a page, almost all mostly shot in the wild. The range and diversity is stunning, but then the quality of the hinterland of REGUA is of perfect Atlantic Rainforest, a rare and declining habitat recognised as being in the top five global biodiversity hotspots in the world; there is only 16% of Atlantic rainforest left (it used to stretch south from the mouth of the Amazon), and REGUA with its 18,000 acres seeks to conserve (and enhance with native plantings – over 624,000 trees planted to date) what is left.  Bringing back the native flora is key to supporting and expanding the potential of butterflies and moths.  The new acres of wetlands increases the biodiversity of insects across many orders of insects including lepidoptera.

The guide will be immensely useful to visitors to these neotropical tropical habitats in Rio de Janeiro state and all those who wish to start identifying from their digital images.  As stated, the book is too large to have in a knapsack (it is over 1.1kg) but a copy needs to be in all field schools, field labs, libraries and university ecology and conservation departments, as a key reference book.

There is a Glossary, Latin Name Index, additional reading and references, and the list of Threatened species. This is a remarkable compilation and sets an important milestone in butterfly research in this wonderful part of the world.

VISIT    Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu  (REGUA)
 A Guide to the Butterflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil. Jorge Bizarro and Alan Martin ISBN: 978-0-9568291-2-2  £35.00 including UK delivery
Field Guide to the Birds of the Serra dos Órgãos and Surrounding Area. Daniel Mello, Gabriel Mello and Francisco Mallet-Rodrigues. ISBN: 978-85-919157-0-5.   £21.00 including UK delivery
A Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil Tom Kompier  ISBN: 978-0-9568291-1-5  £30.50 including UK delivery
 A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil.  Alan Martin, Alexandre Soares and Jorge Bizarro  ISBN-13: 9780956829108  £15.00 including UK delivery.
 All available from Alan Martin, Alureds Oast, Northiam, East Sussex, TN31 6JJ.


Death’s Head H/Moth … 2021

Howse, P.  2021, Bee Tiger: The Death’s Head Hawk-Moth through the Looking-glass. Brambleby Books. pp119. ISBN  978-1-908241-62-7  9-781908 24 1627  £13.99



There have been precious few books on a single moth, with the exception of perhaps the Silk moth, Bombyx mori or one of the moon moths or emperors or some of the glamorous day-flying moths. This is not so much an entomological treatise on the Death’s head hawk-moth than a comprehensive discourse on skulls, bones and all interpretations of these patterns and messages as we may see them;  it is all in the sub-title, ‘through the looking glass’. Mimicry, which is the author’s passion, and nature’s gift, is full of visual interpretation of the dynamic living world and thus subject to vagaries in our understanding. There is a tendency to anthropomorphosise. And so it is with this hawk-moth. It is a large lumbering moth which has evolved to be a honey thief within honeybee colonies. For a large lumbering moth it must have an acute sense of smell to search out and find honeybee colonies, and as for its large size, it does need this to go deep in a hive and plunder the goods. It may of course be too big for bats to handle, as bats weigh less.  Unusually for hawk-moths the death’s head has a very stubby proboscis which it pierces the capped brood and feeds unmolested by the bees. Philip Howse, describes how the morphology of the moth, and its sounds, mimic the piping of the queen bee and it may thus sooth the behaviour of the colony.  Of the bright colour of this moth, the contrasting yellows and black we are told mimic the warming colours of wasps and hornets – more for the daytime predators, birds and reptiles than bees.  And, as for the scary death’s head, this is also for daytime predators – especially if seen from in front, rather than as we conventionally view a moth as settled or set. The classic medusa head of ancient Rome and Pompeii are invoked, especially with hair entwined with snakes. Photos of heads and skulls are shown, including Picasso’s ‘In Voluptate Mors’. Philip Howse is a poet and he publishes a few of his lines as well as many others, and cites quotations from a host of others including Homer, Faust, Proust, Jung, Darwin and more recently Miriam Rothschild who also was enthralled by the moth.  The book is relatively short with nine blank pages at the back (printing problem?) and there is a bibliography, index and glossary of 28 colour plates.   There are nine chapters, three of which are linked, the honeybees’ tale, the bat’s tale and the bird’s tale – all expressing how mechanisms have evolved in these groups over millions of years to feast and forage. The author goes to extraordinary lengths to describe the colour vision of birds and then at the end of the chapter to show how birds might view the moth. The same for the bat’s tale chapter, and exposé of the bat’s capabilities in detecting prey on the wing, all backed up with up to date technical research and discoveries.  With an exciting cover, and a good in-depth read around the subjects, this book will appeal to entomologists, naturalists and members of the general public. The author is Professor Emeritus in Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton and is the author of a number of general natural history books.


Much Ado About Mothing

Much Ado About Mothing; a year intoxicated by Britain’s rare and remarkable Moths. 2021. By James Lowen. London, Bloomsbury Wildlife. £18.99. 384pp.  ISBN 978-1-4729-6697-1   9 781472 966971


We have already had a butterfly enthusiast run around Britain in a year to shoot all the butterfly species, in the name of Patrick Barkham in his ‘The Butterfly Isles’; he reviews this book on the cover as ‘Here is colour, wonder, surprise – and fun’.  Now we have James Lowen setting himself the target of chasing rare and remarkable moths around the islands, from Cornwall to the Cairngorms. Not that he is chasing all the moths – an impossible task with about 40 times more moths than butterflies.

Lowen was initially inspired to all things moths by a poplar hawk-moth which he had to hand. Most people are enthralled by the beauty and evolution of animals, and essentially this is what this book is about, it celebrates the enthusiasm that one man has for moths. James is completely moth-centric. He exudes moth enthusiasm the way other people pursue particular wildflowers, fungi, bryophytes or even tardigrades.

James is an all-round naturalist, whose grass roots were in Yorkshire which set his seed for the living world, and he has explored South America and the poles; he writes for various papers and has a number of books to his name.  His conversion to moths has been recent and profound, not least encouraged by the enthusiasm of his daughter, Maya who figures in the book, especially in the eight pages of colour photographs in the middle of book which figure 15 species of moth, but which mostly shows venues, equipment and techniques. Oh for more illustrations for a group with 2,500 species.

There are 20 chapters starting with winter-spring and ending in autumn. Although only four chapter headings give a clue about the subjects (Hawk-Moths, Kentish Glory, Clearwings and Blues – read Clifton Nonpareil), the rest are very discursive and story-like, on how a site visit was formulated, with advice from whom, how they got there, what it was like on arrival, the type of habitat and finally the exaltation of finding the target.

The book is well researched and his sorties to various far flung habitats is usually to link up with regional moth experts to explore last known locales and pabula. Local contacts from wildlife groups and from Butterfly Conservation (which also conserves moths) and RSPB (yes moths too) and national projects such as ‘Back from the Brink’ are often the source of his targets.  He has included classic lep stories and research involving Miriam Rothschild and Bernard Kettlewell and waxes lyrical about the new arrival the horse-chestnut micro. Where would he be without his treacle ropes, actinics and other entomological paraphernalia.

His writing is florid and descriptive to an intense or even excessive level; his descriptions of moths are flowery and romantic, whether it is the Old Lady, Scotch burnet, Netted carpet, Crimson underwings, Merveille du Jour or hawk-moths. In his quest to find moths James clocked up 14,000 miles over 258 days and visited 139 locations across 27 counties of equivalent.  A job well done.  But only touching the surface of moth biodiversity.

The book is ideal for general readership. A good read for moth-ers without the scientific clutter. The book will be of interest to naturalists, entomologists and lepidopterists and as a book on moths it is unique and unrivalled. There is an index, a bibliography and list of acknowledgements which runs to four pages. The cover is exciting and colourful. It’s a good book to hand, especially with the colourful and exciting cover.

From the flyleaf blurb it says…’no animal may be better placed to inspire the environmentalists of the future.’  Good luck with that then!  Moths will still continue to have a bad press (as most are brown, hairy and scary to the general public), even though they are more biodiverse than butterflies and in many cases more colourful than butterflies such as the day-fliers which James covers in his travels.  Let’s hope this book has started a revival in their fortunes.


Ladybird Books & App

 Three ladybird books & and a Ladybird App. – all coloured red! Two of the books are by different Helens.

 Ladybirds’ by Michael E. N. Majerus. Collins, 1994. ISBN 0-00-219935-1 (originally £14.99 in pb) 367pp.

 Ladybirds’ by Helen E. Roy, Peter M.J. Brown, Richard  F. Comont, Remy L. Poland and John J. Sloggett. 2012. Naturalist’s Handbook 10. Ladybirds. Revised from Majerus and Kearns 1989. ISBN 987-1-907807-0707. 9 781907 807077. Reprinted by Pelagic Publishing. £22.98 142pp

 A Field Guide to Harlequins and other Common Ladybirds of Britain and Ireland.’ By Helen Boyce. 2021. Published by Pelagic Publishing. A Pelagic Identification Guide.  ISBN. 978-1-78427-244-9   9 781784 272449. 106pp.


‘European Ladybirds App’ v.   2021. v1.1.1(1) The app was hand crafted by Karolis Kazlauskis, and authored by a team of 14 scientists from UK, ITA, CZ, SK, BE and PT with financial support from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and Anglia Ruskin University (Faculty of Science & Engineering). Two of the authors, Roy and Brown are co-authors of one of the books above. It is free, simple and quick to download and is conceptionally easy to use. Thirty nine species and forms of ladybird are illustrated with common and latin names. A digest on each species describes size, legs, colours, spots, plants on which it is likely to be found and and food, and habitats. After an initial registration with name and address the app knows where you are an applies a 6-figure OS map reference, and all that is required is to note which species found, in what sort of habitat (a choice is given) hit send record, adding a photo if you wish. This is a user-friendly app which you can carry on your android for field identification and reporting records.

There are other ways to record ladybirds, for instance in the long running UK Ladybird Survey via or via the iRecord app.  

 The classic and highly collectable book on Ladybirds by the late Michael E.N. Majerus stated in 1994 that there were 42 species in Britain. It remains the best original book on ladybirds. The figure is now updated by Helen Boyce’s book who states that there are now 47 species of ladybird in Britain and Ireland, but only 26 of them, now including the Harlequin are conspicuous – thus setting the scene for her book.

 The Helen Boyce book is a short but succinct book of colour photographs and explanations in double-space text for identification; the Helen Roy et al book is much longer and more of a digest and thorough scientific treatment of ladybirds with chapters on ladybirds in the environment, their enemies, variation, population and evolutional biology and identification with keys to adult British ladybirds, all adult British Coccinellidae and larvae of British ladybirds. The field and lab techniques are particularly useful. The Helen Roy book is a fair substitute, and up to date too, for the Majerus book which might be difficult to find cheaply. It is all that beginners would need to get started on ladybird identification, a good concise book.

 If you have difficulty identifying a Harlequins from other Coccinellids there is a 32 pages of subtle chararacteristics in the Harlequin book, such as i) only Harlequins have two ‘shoulder spots’, ii) they never have ‘Angel Wings’, iii) they are 5-8mm long, iv) ‘the only black ladybird that has full, round white ‘cheeks’ is the harlequin v) harlequins do not have white spots on their wing cases vi) they have ‘pinched’ dimples on the rear of the abdomens and viii) they have a lip on the elytra.  There is also a photographic guide on how to distinquish harlequin larvae from other ladybirds, and the most interesting one are the branched spines known as scoli. There are references and index in both of the more recent books.

 All readers have a an affinity with ladybirds, and after befriending an individual the question is often which species is it. Both books will help at this stage, though in the field the app is invaluable and the best choice, even though both books will fit into a jacket pocket.  The classification of ladybirds according to the number of spots is deceivingly simple, but as with many things in nature the more you look the more alternatives come forward.

 All these books are useful.  In a world before Harlequins (introduced into the UK in 2003 and spread to many areas at 100km a year) and in a world that Dr Majerus did not know about, the widespread occurrence of Harlequins introduced another level of variation amongst ladybirds, If you thought that the range of variation amongst ladybirds was great, then Harlequins are at another level. Thus the need for a book on Harlequins and how to distinguish them. This aim has been discharged well.

 Do the books have an answer to this intriguing colour variation?  Helen Roy et al say that factors producing these variations are unknown in many species’. There is much discussion about genetic effects, but the environment has something to do with it too. It is ‘expected that ladybirds will be negatively affected by climate change’ and it was interesting to learn about the dark melanic forms of ladybirds, especially that ‘darker forms are associated with cooler humid climates’.  

 2-spot and 10-spot and the Harlequin are the most variable of ladybirds, and some reliance is had in the Helen Roy book of the old classification of the German entomologist who listed 119 colour forms in his research in 1926-37. By 1945 more than 200 colour forms of the Harlequin ladybird had been listed for Europe with only three in the Britain.

 The colour red has been evolved especially for aposematic purposes by these ladybirds, and also in combination with black and white, and yellow. It is as if ladybirds have cornered the red market for defence in a lively world of predators, but it is not the case. Many other insects use red for great effect.