Paul Waring & Martin Townsend
Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
2nd edition; Bloomsbury; 2009
This is a magnificent tome, but not what I would define as a “field guide”: for an octavo paperback of almost 450 pages, on glossy paper and weighing almost 900 gm you would need a poacher’s pocket or a JCB to carry it around. It is a reference book — and a brilliant one at that — but as such it is not something to be read from cover to cover but explored when needed. It is an essential on the shelves of anyone with an interest in the huge diversity of the insect world, especially, obviously, moths.
Having said that, it doesn’t cover all moths but just the “macro-moths” (essentially anything with a forewing length over about 1 cm); micro-moths are covered elsewhere.
I’ve long wanted such a book (why didn’t I get this before?) as there was for many, many years a huge hole in the field guide coverage of British moths; I remember my mother complaining at least 40 years ago that there was no good, available, guide to moths — how she would have loved this book!
The book does what it sets out to do: describe for the naturalist (both professional and amateur) every known species of moth in the British Isles. The descriptions are organised by genus, with each species getting an entry of a third to half a page in quite small type. The descriptions cover mostly the adult moth, its habitat, lifecycle and distribution.
Strangely all the illustrations of adult moths occupy the central 20% of the book. This is not obvious from the colour-coding of the pages and I’ve found the only way to know quickly where the illustrations start is with a bookmark. Having said that, the illustrations (by Richard Lewington) are magnificent — much the best I’ve encountered — and they show the wonderful diversity and beauty of these important but much disliked insects. Moreover the illustrations show the adult moths in their normal sitting pose, unlike many guides which show the wings displayed as they would be in a museum case (something that’s not helpful to the non-specialist).
There is, however, one significant thing I don’t like about this book. In general it does not illustrate the larvae (caterpillars) of each species. Some (maybe 15%) of species have a photograph of the caterpillar along with the description (not with the illustrations). This I find curious. I know that many caterpillars look very similar (even more than adult moths) but why not illustrate them and have a complete section of the illustrations — separate from the adult moths would be OK — as an aid to identification. For me, this stops the book getting a top 5-star rating.
My only other gripe is the cost; at around £30 for the paperback this is beyond the reach of many.
Nevertheless this is a reference book which will live on the shelf over my desk and quite likely become well used.
Overall Rating: ★★★★☆