Thursday, April 24, 2014

Butterflies of Houston & Southeast Texas by John & Gloria Tveten: A review

Butterflies of Houston and Southeast TexasButterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas by John Tveten
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book that I have owned for many years, which I am constantly re-reading sections of, and which I refer to almost every day especially at this time of year, is Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas by John and Gloria Tveten. This is the most accessible and, at the same time, the most comprehensive guide to butterflies that I have found for this area.

The guide describes and illustrates with color pictures more than 100 species of butterflies that can be found in Southeast Texas, as well as often occurring farther afield in other sections of the state. In my many years of relying on this easy-to-use guide, it has never failed me. Every butterfly that I have come across in Southeast Texas has been found in the book.

As a habitat gardener and amateur photographer who delights in photographing butterflies, I particularly admire the work of those who photographed the butterflies for the book. They are indeed striking and, in most cases, feature both ventral and dorsal views, making identification of the critters a snap.

But it is not just the adult creatures that are featured here. There are lovely photographs of the caterpillars as well, which allow the gardener to see what it is that is munching on her plants and to be tolerant and protective of these "worms" which will some day take to the air as fully-formed colorful butterflies.

The authoritative text of the book is based on the Tvetens' lifetime of observing these flighty flutterers. They also rely upon and frequently refer to the observations of other experts in the field of lepidoptery. The text describes each species' life history, habits, flight patterns, characteristic markings, and the plants on which the caterpillars feed and on which the adults prefer to nectar.

The guide is arranged in sections featuring each butterfly family: swallowtails; whites and sulphurs; gossamer-winged, metalmarks; snout butterflies; longwings; brush-footed butterflies; satyrs, wood nymphs, and browns; milkweed butterflies; and skippers. I'm proud to say that long usage of and familiarity with the book has finally given me the skill to (almost) always know immediately to which family a new butterfly that I'm seeing for the first time belongs.

There is a general description of each butterfly family in each section that precedes the descriptions of the individual species. This includes characteristics which all members of that family share.

In addition, in the introduction, the Tvetens provide a fairly comprehensive discussion of butterfly biology. Also, in the back is a complete checklist of area butterflies with their common and scientific names and there is a list of butterfly organizations and journals and of public butterfly houses and gardens that one can visit.  

I have several bookshelves filled with field guides, habitat gardening books, and general information books about many subjects in Nature, but there is none among them that I refer to more often or that I rely on my completely for accurate and easily accessible information on this subject. It is certainly the book that I would recommend first to any amateur naturalist interested in the butterflies of this region.


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