Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America

The Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America is not the only identification guide for eastern moths to be published recently. At the end of last year, Princeton University Press issued a mammoth volume on eastern owlet moth caterpillars. Readers may be familiar with the excellent Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, which includes caterpillars of common moth and butterfly species. The same author has teamed with David F. Schweitzer, J. Bolling Sullivan, and Richard C. Reardon to produce Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America.

This book treats 815 moth species from the superfamily Noctuoidea. This is one of the most diverse insect superfamilies, with over 75,000 species recorded worldwide (and probably many more not yet discovered). Of the species treated in the book, 726 species are illustrated while 89 are only described; of the illustrated species, 372 receive full accounts while 354 are given brief treatment that includes their host plants and how to identify them. Many of the full accounts are reproduced Caterpillars of Eastern North America, with updates or corrections where necessary.

Full accounts include photos of pinned and living adult moths in addition to the caterpillar. They may include multiple caterpillar images for species with a high degree of variation. The photographs are superb and reproduced at a high resolution suitable for illustrating significant markings and body structures. Since this volume was originally intended to appear in the Forest Service's FHTET publication series, the accounts include information on the economic significance of each species. The accounts are based on years of research by the four authors and include previously unpublished data about host plants and life cycles. An introduction covers the basics of moth taxonomy and life cycles and includes notes on collecting and rearing caterpillars.

Those with a serious interest in moths, whether on an amateur or professional basis will want a copy of
Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Gardeners and land managers may likewise find the book useful for identifying potential pest species. Readers with a more general interest will probably be satisfied with the coverage in Caterpillars of Eastern North America but may be interested in the additional coverage and photographs.

This review was based on a review copy provided by the publisher.