Recommended Reading

The world in several volumes

Producing an exhaustive treatment of all the world’s butterflies is a task that takes many years and can never truly be completed – new species are regularly discovered, and the classification and nomenclature of all species is in a state of constant flux. The works of d’Abrera are true classics, and unlikely to be surpassed. The Bauer and Frankenbach series of paperbacks are best regarded as complementary to d’Abrera, and are useful when additional illustrations of particular genera or species are needed. None of these works include the Hesperiidae.

d’AbreraButterflies of the WorldAn incomparable and essential set of 16 large format books covering all zoogeographical regions. Covers all families except the Hesperiidae. Life-size photos of every species in the collection of the BMNH.Hill House Publishersvarious dates
various authorsButterflies of the WorldLarge format paperbacks covering selected genera or subfamilies. Life-size colour photographs. Text very limited – just specimen data.Hillside Booksvarious dates

Books dealing with a single country or region

These are generally single volumes or 2 volume sets which deal with the butterflies of a particular country or small group of countries. They are particularly valuable for the travelling lepidopterist who doesn’t want to be side tracked with species that are not applicable to the area he or she is visiting. These books generally have an introductory section in which the various habitat types in each region are described in detail.

The species descriptions provide further information about the distribution, habitat requirements, behaviour, foodplants and ecology of each species.

Ackery, Smith & Vane-WrightCarcasson’s African Butterflies CSIRO1985
BaytasField Guide to the Butterflies of TurkeyIncludes over 750 photographs of butterflies taken in their natural habitats and species accounts of all Turkish butterflies, including recently described Agrodiaetus blues.National Geographic Turkiye2007
BrabyButterflies of AustraliaCovers the biology, identification and distribution of all Australian spp.CSIRO2000
CanalsMariposas de MisionesPhotographic field guide to the butterflies of Iguassu Falls and surrounding areas of Argentina and Brazil. Covers about 30 percent of the species, including Skippers.Literatureof Latin America2003
DeVriesButterflies of Costa Rica2 paperback volumes covering all families except Hesperiidae and Lycaenidae. Reduced-size colour photographs of all species. Excellent and informative text.Princeton University Press1987
EliotButterflies of the Malay Peninsula.Portable hardback covering all West Malaysian butterflies including the Skippers. Colour photographs of all species. Useful text.Malayan Nature Society1992
Garwood & LehmanButterflies of Southern AmazoniaPhotographic field guide covering 1000 of the commonest Amazonian species, including Skippers.RiCalePublishing2007
HernandezField Guide of Cuban / West Indies ButterfliesCovers all species found in Cuba and the West Indies.Apollo Books2004
LafranchisButterflies of EuropeComprehensive guide covering all of the European butterflies. Distribution maps, taxonomic keys, and genitalia drawings of difficult species.Diatheo2004 
LarsenButterflies of West AfricaLarge format. 2 volumes covering all West African species including the Skippers. Excellent text.Apollo Books1997
LarsenButterflies of KenyaHardback field guide covering all Kenyan species including Skippers. Illustrated with colour photographs.Oxford University Press1991
MakrisButterflies of CyprusDescribes and illustrates all species found in Cyprus, with information on distribution & ecology. Photographs of upper / undersides of both sexes.distributed by NHBS2003
McCubbinAustralian ButterfliesLarge format. Covers all Australian species. Beautifully illustrated with water-colours. Exhaustive and very entertaining text.Nelson
MonastyrskiiButterflies of VietnamA series of identification guides covering the butterflies of Vietnam.Apollo Books2005
NeildButterflies of Venezuela vols covering Nymphalidae, Pieridae and Papilionidae. Thorough text. Superb plates depicting life-size dorsal and verso of both sexes.Meridian Publications
OtsukaField guide to the butterflies of Borneo & south-east Asia Borneo Books2001
ParsonsThe Butterflies of Papua New GuineaExhaustive study covering the identification, biology, distribution & systematics of all PNG species.Academic Press1988
ParsonsButterflies of the Bulolo-Wau valleyHandy pocket guide. Colour photos of about a third of the butterfly species found in Papua New Guinea.Bishop Museum Press1991
PinratanaButterflies of Thailand6 volume series covering all species found in Thailand, incl. Skippers.White Lotus1988
ScottButterflies of North AmericaExcellent species text. Superb coverage of anatomy, biology and ecology of N. American species.Stanford University Press1992
SmithButterflies of Nepal White Lotus1995
Swaay & WarrenPrime Butterfly Areas in Europe576 species are known to occur in Europe, of which 71 are considered threatened. This book identifies 431 areas where conservation efforts should be urgently focused.Wageningen2003
TennantButterflies of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria Gem Publishing1996
Thomas and LewingtonButterflies of Britain & IrelandThe most complete, up to date and best illustrated book about British butterflies. Absolutely delightful.British Wildlife Publishing2010
Tolman and LewingtonButterflies of Britain and EuropeField guide covering all butterflies found in Europe, including Skippers. Superb watercolour illustrations.Harper Collins1997
TrattButterfly LandscapesA collection of water-colour paintings depicting British butterflies in context with their habitats.Langford Press2005
WikramanayakeButterflies of Sri Lanka Wikramanayake2006
WoodhallButterflies of South AfricaBiology, taxonomy, distribution, foodplants and identification. Photos of live specimens taken in the wild.Struik2005

Books dealing with British counties

There are numerous books providing excellent coverage of British butterflies at county level. They often contain local distribution maps, site information, and observational data e.g. regarding local voltinism, larval foodplants and other data specific to a particular county or site.

As well as books, many county branches of Butterfly Conservation produce annual reports detailing the current status of each species. Several of the branches also run websites with information about local sites, and regularly updated “sightings” pages.

Biology and ecology

There are many books dealing with the biology and ecology of Lepidoptera. Most are academic in style and directed at the scientific community. A few such as “Butterflies of the World” by Preston-Mafham, and “Butterflies” by Ford are written in more easily understood popular style.

CapineraEncyclopedia of EntomologyHighly comprehensive encyclopedia of entomology. Fully illustrated.Springer2008
FordButterfliesIn depth coverage of the anatomy, biology, genetics and ecology of British butterflies. A classic.Collins1945
Matthews & MatthewsInsect BehaviourExhaustive academic coverage of insect behaviour. Well written and easily understood. Essential.Springer2010
NijhoutThe Development and Evolution of Butterfly Wing PatternsA brilliant and engrossing analysis of the biochemistry, morphology and evolution of wing structure and patterns in butterflies.Smithsonian1991
Vane-Wright & AckeryThe Biology of ButterfliesA set of 33 papers dealing in depth with all aspects of butterfly biology. Essential for serious students of biochemistry, phylogenetics, logic  and many other disciplines.Academic Press1984


These books are generally produced by wildlife photographers rather than by entomologists. They are intended primarily as showcases of a particular photographers work.

ArndtNomads of the Wind( review here )Stunning photographs of Monarchs at the Mexico over-wintering sites. Many high quality images of other species taken by Ingo Arndt.Papadakis 2008
DaltonCaught in MotionAmazing photographs of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, birds, bats and other animals frozen in flight with a high speed camera.Weidenfeld & Nicolson1982