Thursday, September 27, 2018

I have excellent sources

This is the 10th volume in a 15-volume series covering all European species of owlet moths. At least I think it does! This volume deals with the two subfamilies Catocalinae and Plusiinae. From the top of my head, the only catocalinids I'm familiar with are the underwings (Catocala).

Each species presentation is divided into three sections, titled Diagnosis, Bionomics and Distribution. Range maps are included, and I'm pleased to report that in this book, “Europe” actually means Europe – all the way to the Urals and the Caucasus (but excluding Cyprus). The photographic plates are in color, but form a separate section of at the back of the book. The poor moths are shown in pinned condition. The collectors' names are included, which may become a security problem if Mothra ever turns out to be a real creature… There is also a section showing magnified photos of, ahem, noctuid genitals.

The book is *not* for the general reader, instead being a specialized work for noctuid-interested scientists only. The language is heavy and technical. I found several strange and unfamiliar terms already in the first few paragraphs: trifine, quadrifine, quadrifines, Hennigian principles, autamorphies and juxta. The word “irritating” is, I believe, more common and above all, more known! The in-house character of this book is obvious already from the front flap, which shows a photo of author Barry Goater when he was five years old with a butterfly net made for him by his grandfather. A large portion of the volume discusses various problems of noctuid taxonomy. Apparently, many of the owlet moths are hard to catch, phylogenetically speaking, and the exact classification of them constantly changes. Indeed, some believe that Noctuidae should be split up into two distinct families, the new kid on the block being christened Erebidae. Something tells me the guys behind this volume will have a lot to do in the decades ahead!

As usual, the team behind “Noctuidae Europaeae” uses fantastic sources. How about E Aisleitner's and L Rézbányai's 1982 earth-shaking article “Neu für Österreich: Diachrysia nadeja Obth 1880 auch nördlich der Alpen nach gewiesen (Noct.)”, published in “Nota Lepidopterologica” 5 (2 – 3)? Other referenced journals include “Bulletin de la Classe-Physico-Mathématique de l'Académie Impériale de St Pétersburg”, “Memoirs of the Southern California Academy of Sciences” and “The Lepidoptera of Transbaikalia” (in Russian). The most intriguing source, and I say this un-ironically, is from 1797. One T Martyn then published a small booklet called “Psyche: Figures of Nondescript Lepidopterous Insects of Rare Moths and Butterflies from Different Parts of the World”. I assume our dream team has managed to describe some of these, yes?

Not sure how to rate this product, actually brokered by the Carlsberg Foundation (I assumed their primary interest was other than owlet moth phylogeny, but what do I know?), so as compromise I give it three stars.

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