Book Review: Butterflies Of Chennai: A Comprehensive Field Guide

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 43 No. 12, December 2023

With improved technology and a much greater appetite among the young for books to remind them of the wonderful biosphere in which they live, it is heartening to see how many new, high-quality publications are emerging from within India. Here are books that Sanctuary believes should be in every public library and in the homes of all those whose hearts beat to nature’s drum.

Butterflies of Chennai: A Comprehensive Field Guide
By Aditya Ramakrishnan, Anooja A, Aswathi Asokan, Ekadh Ranganathan, M. Nishanth Arvind, Mahathi Narayanaswamy, Nanditha Ram Satagopan, Rohith Srinivasan, Smriti Mahesh and Vikas Madhav Nagarajan
Published by Notion Press,
Paperback, 150 pages,
Price: Rs. 849

Butterflies are important not only as pollinators and prey for many birds and reptiles, but also as ecological indicators, as the Butterflies of Chennai reminds us in a section titled ‘Why Butterflies?’ This well-designed field guide, authored by an accomplished team of students, describes 157 species of butterflies found in Chennai. The handy guide begins with well-labelled plates on butterfly morphology, venation – important for identifying some species – life history, and behaviours such as mud-puddling and migration, making it accessible even for complete beginners just embarking on their butterfly-identification journey!

Organised by family, the guide details crucial information about these species such as their habitat, nectar- and host-plants, size, whether they are migratory or not, sexual dimorphism in the species, statutory protection, and relative abundance in Chennai. The information is presented in a clear and concise manner with crisp, beautiful images – of both the inside and underside of the wings – for each species, to aid in identification. Names of the species are also provided in Tamil. Where multiple forms of a species exist, as in the common mormon, or when there is sexual dimorphism, photos are presented to aid identification.

The main guide is followed by a helpful key to differentiate between similar-looking species. The authors have made a commendable effort to encourage positive interactions between people and nature, by providing activities for adults and kids to interact with butterflies, such as instructions for setting up a butterfly garden and mud-puddling pit, and a guide for butterfly journalling. This is followed by a map of some butterfly hotspots in and around Chennai. The immense effort and thought into putting this field guide together extends into ensuring that the photographs used were ethically taken. Butterflies of Chennai is an excellent guide for those interested in urban biodiversity and natural history, and will be indispensable for anyone who wants to learn more about these jewels of the insect world, particularly along the Coromandel coast.

Reviewed by Bhavya Iyer.


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