The Butterflies of the Eastern United States

FROM looking upon butterflies as merely beautiful insects, which spend their useless lives in aimless flight or search for nectar, it has been an easy step to regard the students of these creatures as harmless enthusiasts, who occupy their purposeless existence in as idle a manner as do the objects of their study. It is true that the great results achieved by investigators in recent years have popularized the study of biology to a wonderful extent; but the general interest has been largely directed toward a few lines of research, as the zoological affinities of man, and those low organisms whose structure appears to he so simple that we have been led to hope that through the study of them we may be able to throw light upon the origin of life itself; while the far greater range of subjects lying between these extremes of the organic series has been left to the naturalists, and to those amateurs who collect and classify their specimens with much the same spirit as that with which our children fill their postagestamp albums. Fortunately, we have now in the great work by Mr. Scudder on the butterflies of our fauna,1 which has been appearing in monthly parts and is now completed, a thoroughly scientific treatment of this department of biology, which is presented in a clear, beautiful, and fascinating manner, — a manner that will interest the general reader as well as the entomologist or the collector.

In turning the pages of Mr. Scudder’s work the illustrations naturally first attract attention. These form a volume of ninety-six plates, comprising about two thousand figures. Many of the plates are in color, representing the butterflies with an accuracy of detail and tint never surpassed in illustrations of this kind. In addition to the figures of butterflies there are drawings of eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids, structural details, and the parasites of butterflies. There are also maps indicating the geographical distribution of the species. A small map of North America is given for each species of butterfly ; and upon this map the regions in which the insect is known to occur are denoted by a distinct color.

Among the plates are portraits of John Le Conte, Harris, and Abbot.

The last is a lithographic reproduction of a water-color sketch, believed to have been executed by Abbot himself. It will therefore be greatly prized by all who have an interest in this pioneer, who did so much, but of whom almost nothing is known except his work and his name, not even his autograph being attainable after the most diligent search.

The text comprises two quarto volumes, including about seventeen hundred pages. In the Introduction the author discusses the general structure of butterflies, both in the adult and adolescent stages, as a basis for a knowledge of their proper classification. Mr. Scudder has long urged the adoption of a more rational classification of our butterflies than that commonly accepted, and has brought out very clearly the necessity of a more careful study of the structure of these insects in the various stages as a basis for such a classification.

It is a suggestive fact that although the Lepidoptera have been collected more than any other insects, except perhaps beetles, the classification of this order is in a less satisfactory state than that of any other. This is due in part to an inadequate knowledge of the early stages of these insects; but it is due to a greater extent to the coat of scales with which their bodies are clothed. Students have not been willing to denude their insects in order to see the structural characters. They have eared more for perfect specimens than for a knowledge of zoölogical affinities. Even today the lepidopterists who would denude a “unique” in order to study its structure are in the minority. As a result we have classifications based upon very superficial characters ; and no one has given a satisfactory table of the moths of any fauna by which even the families can be separated. This is said without overlooking the tables of Herriek-Schaeffer and the many changes that have been rung upon them.

But with butterflies it is now far different. Mr. Seudder has given us not only analytical tables by which the families, sub-families, genera, and species can be separated by the characters presented by the adult insects, but in most cases he has given analytical tables for each of the immature stages, —the egg, the caterpillar at birth, the mature caterpillar, and the chrysalis,—a feature never before attempted in a work of this kind.

The principal differences between the classification adopted in this work and that in general use in this country are, first, a change in the sequence of families, the Nymphalidæ being placed highest, and the Papilionidæ next above the Hesperidce : and second, a multiplication of genera. Both of these changes have been urged by Mr. Scudder in previous publications. The removal of the Papilionidæ from the head to nearly the foot of the series did not originate with him, but had formerly been advocated by prominent European authors, such as Heinemann, Bruant, and Bates; and there now seems to be a marked tendency towards its acceptance in this country. But Mr. Seudder ’s ideas regarding the limits of genera appear to be gaining ground much more slowly. This is well illustrated in the case of the genus Papilio. It is now seventeen years since he first suggested a distinct generic name for each of the species of this genus found in New England. This suggestion has met with so little favor that in this last work he not only discusses it in the systematic part, but makes it the subject of an excursus. The proposed splitting up of this genus is based chiefly on differences presented by the larvæ and chrysalids; and Mr. Scudder states his position in the following words : “ We invite attention to the tables and the descriptions which follow, and ask any student to compare, for instance, the caterpillars and chrysalids, on the one hand, of Vanessa with those of Argynnis (using these terms with the very widest latitude), and, on the other hand, of Laertias with those of Iphielides, and either of these with Heraclides (using these in the narrow sense in which they are employed in this work) ; and if he can find as good grounds for separating the first two from each other as he can the last three, I should be glad to have them stated. If he cannot, and refuses to recognize these facts by the use of terms having as high a taxonomic meaning in the latter case as in the former, then he is yielding to prejudice, or to tradition, or to indolence, and is helping to perpetuate a false view of nature.” The grounds taken in this matter by any student will depend largely upon his criteria for genera; and the admirable figures and descriptions given by Mr. Scudder furnish all the data that can be desired for settling this question.

The descriptive portions of Mr. Scudder’s hook have been executed with an unparalleled minuteness of detail. It is generally known to entomologists that he has been engaged upon this work for twenty years, and that for the last eight years it has received his undivided attention. Now that the book is before us we can understand why its preparation has cost so much labor.

We take for example the description of Euphœades troilus, which will serve as a fair illustration of his part of the work. The technical description is preceded by a heading consisting of the scientific name just given and a popular name, “the green-cloud swallowtail ; ” a list of the popular names which have been suggested for this Species by various writers; a bibliography of the species, containing references to more than thirty different works ; and a poetical quotation. The description itself consists of a detailed account of the characters presented by the imago, by several specimens exhibiting variations, by the egg, by the caterpillar in each of its live stages, by the chrysalis, and hy certain malformed specimens ; the whole comprising nearly seven quarto pages of fine type.

While we are filled with admiration for the skill and conscientious care displayed in these descriptions, and for the large amount of information they contain, we cannot help feeling that they are too detailed for the ordinary purposes of determination. We would not have them cut down at all; but we wish that the description of the imago, which in this case occupies three quarto pages of fine type, might be preceded by a short paragraph in which merely the more striking of the specific characters should be enumerated. This, however, is not a serious omission, as the characters presented in the analytical tables and a reference to the figures will enable the student in most eases to avoid wading through long descriptions which do not apply to the specimen in hand.

Returning to the account of “ the green-cloud swallow-tail,”we find that the descriptive portions are followed by paragraphs on geographical distribution, haunts, oviposition, food plants, habits and habitation of the caterpillar, pupation, life-history, flight posture and habits, enemies, and desiderata. In a word, all that is known about the insect is recorded, and attention is called to the particular phases of its history regarding which it is desirable that more information be obtained.

A striking feature of this work is the interpolation, throughout the systematic part, of a large number of essays on the various interesting problems which arise in the study of butterflies. These excursuses cannot fail to do much toward stimulating the study of entomology in a thoughtful and scholarly way. The student who has read them will cease to look upon butterflies as merely beautiful specimens, to be pinned and admired for their markings. Instead, he will find in these insects illustrations of many of the more interesting phenomena with which the naturalist has to deal.

Certain species, as the cosmopolitan Vanessa cardui, or the fragile Œneis semidea. which is found only on the summits of a few mountains, will suggest to him studies of the laws governing geographical distribution. The sight of a cabbage butterfly will remind him of the spread of Pieris rapæ over our continent, the details of which are so carefully worked out by Mr. Scudder. The remarkable facts of mimicry or protective resemblance will be brought to mind whenever a specimen of Basilarchia archippus is seen. His eyes will he open to other phenomena of this kind by the excursus on Protective Coloring in Caterpillars and that on Deceptive Devices among Caterpillars. An historical account and an analysis of the theory of mimicry are also given under the head of Butterflies in Disguise. The perplexing phenomena of dimorphism and polymorphism, of antigeny, or sexual diversity in butterflies, of melanism and albinism, and of the law of suffusion in butterflies are carefully discussed. We wish we had space to give a list of the titles of the move than seventy excursuses; but the instances we have cited will serve to show the nature of the subjects treated in them.

Besides these excursuses there are several chapters by eminent specialists. The physical geography and the climate of New England are discussed by Professor William M. Davis; Studies on the Embryological Development of Euvanessa antiopa is the title of a chapter by Mr. C. W. Woodworth; the hymenopterous parasites of our butterflies are described by Mr. L. O. Howard, and the dipterous parasites by Professor S. W. Williston.

The generic and specific names used by Mr. Scudder in his Synonymic List, the publication of which was begun seventeen years ago, have been retained, with very few exceptions. In doing this Mr. Scudder shows that he has the courage of his convictions. As no new light is thrown upon the subject by the publication of this work, it is not worth while to re-open the controversy regarding the propriety of recognizing the Hubnerian names. Those who share Mr. Scudder’s views in this matter will believe that he has done much to insure the permanency of these names by introducing them in his work, which is doubtless destined to be one of the classics of entomology, and they will read with satisfaction the vigorous defense of his position which the author makes in his preface. On the other hand, the great majority of entomologists will feel that he has seriously impaired the usefulness of his hook by taking this course.

We are glad to see that Mr. Scudder has given up the idea that the law of priority should be applied to the names of groups higher than genera, and adopts the commonly accepted practice in the formation of family, sub-family, and tribal names. This removes from his nomenclature a great mass of unfamiliar names, and renders the Systematic List accompanying this work one easily comprehended.

In concluding this notice, we wish again to express our admiration not merely for the scholarly attainments brought to bear upon Mr. Scudder’s work and the magnificent results achieved, but for the example of patient, conscientious labor. This sumptuous book, so delightful to the eye through the extraordinary beauty of its illustrations, so rich in learning, and so agreeable in its excursions into the philosophic study of entomology, is a noble witness to a scientific purpose early conceived, developed amid many difficulties, and brought to a conclusion only after years of resolute toil and steadfast endurance. The simple history of the work in the author’s preface, given with a fine reserve, yet with an air of just triumph at the successful termination of his labors, will he read with great interest by his fellow-students. In this land of unlimited ambitions, there is much in our atmosphere that stimulates an unseemly haste to obtain priority of publication ; the wholesome effect, therefore, upon our younger naturalists of a work like that before us cannot be overestimated.

  1. The Butterflies of the Eastern United States and Canada, with Special Reference to New England. By SAMUEL, H. SCUDDER. 3 vols. 4to. Plates. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Published by the Author. 1889.