Dick Vane-Wright

This fully illustrated book is written by a leading lepidopterist and provides a complete and absorbing natural history of butterflies.

978 0 565 09179 8
June 2003
235 x 210 mm
112 pp
Colour throughout
Natural History Museum


With their beautiful wing patterns and colours butterflies immediately catch our attention. Of all creatures they exemplify metamorphosis with the creeping caterpillar transforming into soaring butterfly. 

But they have also come to be creatures of science, revealing much to biologists about evolution, and the ecological processes and historical accidents that have generated the diversity of life on earth.

Using examples from around the world, leading lepidopterist Dick Vane-Wright explores what it means to be a butterfly, from how the yellow birdwing finds a mate to why the African gaudy commodores produce adults of different colours. 

The book starts with the familiar life cycle, charting development from egg to adult, mating and egg-laying. It continues by exploring less familiar aspects of the butterfly life-style: how they care for their eggs, the surprising things that some caterpillars eat, what happens inside the caterpillar to create the butterfly; why is it that there are so many variations in adult wing pattern and colour. 

These and many more questions are raised in this examination of the butterfly, which concludes by considering the threats and opportunities that now face them. Butterflies offers an overview of the biology and diversity of this, the major group of day-flying Lepidoptera.

See inside

Look inside this book to get an idea of its content.

Pages from Butterflies

Caterpillars are non-stop eating machines. 

Pages from Butterflies

Butterflies have all sorts of spots and markings on their wings.

Pages from Butterflies

Butterflies are presumed to have evolved from a single common ancestor. 

Pages from Butterflies

What is the future for butterflies? 


Dick Vane-Wright is a specialist on the taxonomy, evolution and classification of butterflies. Through his knowledge about the distribution of species, he has also been involved in evaluating priorities for the conservation of biological diversity. He joined the Natural History Museum at the age of 18, and was former Head of the Department of Entomology. 

Dick has written numerous scientific papers, co-authored Milkweed Butterflies, and co-edited The Biology of Butterflies, Phylogenetics and Ecology and Systematics and Conservation Evaluation. With Butterflies he aims to bring a love of these enchanting insects to a wider audience.


Find out what others think of this book.

"The titles in the Natural History Museum's Life series are not the usual id guides, covering a limited group of species with detailed but rather repetitive text. Instead, they go behind the individual species or geographical region to present the bigger picture of the world's fauna in all its glorious multitude. They do this not by bland generalisation, but by introducing key scientific work (both modern and historic) on the insects' behaviour, life history and physiology, in a very pleasing style. There are probably more books on butterflies than on any other group of insects - though those on dragonflies are fast catching up. Is there room for more of them on the crowded bookshelves? Here are two new volumes certainly worth trying to cram into the bookcase. "

BBC Wildlife

"...For those who wish to delve deeper into the origins, life-cycles and general natural history of these beautiful insects, these two books offer a suitable opportunity. In addition to revealing a wealth of information about their subjects, both books are a delight to handle with a superb selection of first-rate photographs, including familiar British species as well as many exotics... All in all both books represent great value for money, retailing at less than a tenner, and offer a superbly illustrated insight into the worlds of these two very different but increasingly popular groups of insects. "

The London Naturalist

"SEX. It's something that butterflies are rather good at, which explains why the Lepidoptera are one of the most successful orders of insects, with some 20,000 species worldwide. Most butterflies adopt a conventional courtship, with the female leading her suitor on a merry dance to test his flying ability and suitability, but some members of the tropical genus Heliconius have given up this expensive nonsense. The males simply locate female pupae on the point of hatching. As the pupa splits, the male copulates with his child bride. Stories like that make this colourful book a fascinating introduction to the complex world of the butterfly. It reveals, for instance, that the chastity belt is not a human invention. But there's much more than sex and scandal in this highly readable book. If you want to learn about false eyes or false heads, mimicry and mockers, adaption and evolution, it's all here. Once you've read this book, even the cabbage white will never look the same again. "

New Scientist

"This is an excellent information and reference book...It is written mainly for top primary and early secondary pupils, but could very well be used for a quick source book by many adults... ...with superb colour illustrations to accompany the fully-detailed text, and its fascinating facts on myriad butterflies. For example, did you know that some butterflies can change colour according to their environment, or that they can taste through their feet? Read the book to find out more! "

The School Librarian

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