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August 1-7, 2007

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'Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions'

Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions
(By Arthur M. Shapiro; UC Press; 345 pages; $18.95 paper)

Just telling apart the showy Western Tiger Swallowtail ('cause it's yellow) and the Monarch (orange) is a triumph for a lepidopterist at my skill level. Arthur M. Shapiro's handy Field Guide to Butterflies (part of the California Natural History Guides series) fills in a lot of blanks. In addition to the full-color plates (illustrations by Timothy D. Manolis), which aid immensely in field identifications, Shapiro provides highly readable and fascinating information about butterfly mating and migration habits; controversies over taxonomy; the process of "puddling," during which male butterflies congregate at mud puddles for reasons not entirely understood; native plants that attract the fluttering visitors; mimicry and protective strategies; and historical background, such as a sidebar bio of Pierre Joseph Michel Lorquin, a Frenchman who came to California to hunt for gold and remained to search for butterflies. Among many nuggets, Shapiro explains how a "fashion for naming hesperiids after Greek and Roman poets, dramatists, orators and such" gave us the Propertius Duskywing, a la the Roman poet Sextus Propertius. The book's definition of the Bay Area generously includes everywhere from Marin and Sonoma to San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, which makes it useful over a wide range.

Review by Michael S. Gant


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