11 August 2018

Book Review : Butterflies of Vietnam

Book Review : Common Butterflies of Vietnam
Dedicated books on Vietnam Butterflies

A recent business trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in South Vietnam led me to a local bookshop near the hotel where I stayed. Whilst browsing around the nature section, I wondered how many books I would find about the local butterfly fauna of Vietnam. The shop did not stock any, although there were quite a few other books about birds, flora and landscapes of Vietnam.

Of the 10 ASEAN countries, relatively comprehensive hardcopy literature on butterflies can be found for Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Laos and Singapore. The remaining ASEAN countries are Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Vietnam. There are basic guidebooks and many work-in-progress books for the majority of these countries. Amongst all the books available, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay's 944-page Butterflies of Thailand Vol 2 stands out as the largest comprehensive work on Thai butterflies.

A quick search online for books on the Butterflies of Vietnam showed that there are a couple of basic 'illustrated checklist and field guide' type of books, and a few more comprehensive work in progress. Most were authored by Dr Alexander Monastyrskii, a Russian entomologist, in collaboration with several other co-authors.

A basic Field Guide on the Common Butterflies of Vietnam, published in 2002 is touted as the "first illustrated field guide to the Butterflies of Vietnam". This 63-page field guide, featuring 105 of the common butterfly species in Vietnam, showcases hand-drawn illustrations of butterflies. These drawings by artist Wendy Gibbs, are very accurate drawings of the actual butterflies from a set collection.

The book opens with a foreword penned by Mr Nguyen Minh Thong, the IUCN Country representative, and Prof Vu Quang Con, the Director of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources in Hanoi.

Like the majority of butterfly books, the first six pages dwell with some basic information on classification, morphology, life cycle, behaviour, ecology and conservation. Having probably been worked on in the late 1990s and early 2000's the authors used the old taxonomic classification prior to the more recent consolidation of several families into Nymphalidae., this does not really detract from the value of this basic field guide in helping to identify common butterflies found in Vietnam.

The species pages are organised in a very simple format with the scientific names stopping at the species level. English common names are also given, and are generally quite consistent with many of the books available on ASEAN butterflies. For example the Neptis species are called "Sailors" in this book, as opposed to "Sailers" that are used by other authors.

Each species has a short write-up, describing the butterflies' behaviours, differences between the sexes, favourite nectaring plants and geographical range where the butterfly occurs. For some of the species, upper and underside or male/female illustrations are shown, using the half-butterfly depiction that is used in WA Fleming's Butterflies of West Malaysia and Singapore.

Given the small number of butterfly species featured - 105, which is less than 10% of the total number of species found in Vietnam, a reader will quickly look for more comprehensive books about Vietnam's butterflies. The good news is that there are several updates by the same author available. An example is the 114-page 2nd edition of the Butterflies of Vietnam: An Illustrated Checklist published in 2016.

Dr Monastyrskii also expanded his work into a work-in-progress series :
Butterflies of Vietnam, Volume 1: Nymphalidae: Satyrinae in 2005
Butterflies of Vietnam, Volume 2: Papilionidae in 2007
Butterflies of Vietnam, Volume 3: Nymphalidae: Danainae, Amathusiinae in 2012
These are more comprehensive books showing a wider collection of the species found in Vietnam and I am sure that more volumes will be available in due course.

For the more serious students, a scientific paper on The Biogeography of the Butterfly Fauna of Vietnam With a Focus on the Endemic Species (Lepidoptera), by A.L. Monastyrskii and J.D. Holloway, is also available. This paper discusses the biogeographic distribution of Vietnamese butterflies, featuring several key endemics found in Vietnam.

So for butterfly watchers who visit Vietnam, do check out these books for your reference to help you to identify what you have seen in various parts of this biodiversity-rich ASEAN country. Vietnam is a large country covering a total of 331,230.8 km2 of land mass and has a long coastal line. The current number of species recorded is 1,181 and counting.

Text by Khew SK

Photo plates from the books are copyrighted property of their respective authors and publishers, and samples of the pages from the books are featured here under the principles of fair use.