Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America

Normally when I receive a field guide to review, the book covers wildlife in some exotic country, often in a different hemisphere. When I get books like that, all I can do is judge the book by how well it seems to convey the information to someone who is new with those species. It is very unlikely that, between the time I receive the book and the time I need to have a written review, I will be able to travel to somewhere on the other side of the world. However, this book was different. The Peterson Field Guide to Moths covers species that I can find in my own backyard. Also, when I got the book in the mail, I knew that I would be part of the invertebrate team at a local bioblitz in a few days, so I would have 24-hours to try out this new guide!

Before the bioblitz, I spent some time flipping through the book and getting familiar with the species accounts and information presented. I found the layout to be excellent. Each spread contains photographs on the right side and accompanying text on the left. The photographs are all sharp and bright, and the text is very helpful. The plates also have arrows pointing to key identification marks on each species. These arrows make it easy to learn what characteristics and patterns are important to look at in order to make an accurate identification.

Finally, the bioblitz came, so off we went looking for insects! The event began in the afternoon, so there were few moths around at first, but the guide did give information on the Forage Loopers and Lucerne Moths that we saw fly up from the old hay field. Once the sky got dark, the moths really became active. We set up a blacklight against a white sheet in hopes of attracting moths (discussed well on pages 5 and 6 in the book). Although most of the insects that came to the light were mayflies and caddisflies, we managed to find a huge number of moths as well.

Light set-up used to attract moths during the bioblitz

Over the course of the night, we checked the light and put anything we could not identify on the spot into small jars. We took these back to the bioblitz tent were we pulled out the lights and the new field guide. Two of us had this guide along, and we were both glad we decided to pack it! Many of the moths that we did not know were easy to identify using the guide.

Walnut Caloptilia - a species we would not have identified without this book!

We spent a good portion of the night pouring through the guide and sorting through the moths we had collected. In total, we found almost 150 moth species during the bioblitz!

White-dotted Prominent
There are thousands and thousands of moth species that occur in this region. That is an incredible number, one that cannot be adequately treated in a single field guide. Yet the Peterson Field Guide to Moths does an incredible job of depicting nearly 1,300 species that are commonly found in the northeastern potion of the United States. Sure, we may have found a few species at the bioblitz that we couldn't find in the guide, but that just adds to the fun of mothing. The guide probably helped us with 75% of the unknown moths we found, a great percentage... and we may have even missed a few that are in the book due to our sleep deprivation.

One-spotted Variant

This may very well be the most useful and information-packed insect field guide I've ever read. The manner in which the authors presented the information is incredibly well-done and easy to understand and remember. There are so many great things about this book that I cannot think of a single thing that stands out as being better than the rest! If I had to pick one "con" of this book, it would be the lack of discussion on separating certain moths from similar-looking species. Other than that minor issue, I find this guide to be excellent, so I will certainly be using this one for a long time. I am certain that the Peterson Field Guide to Moths will inspire most people to notice and appreciate these insects.

Orange-headed Epicallima

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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