Princeton University Press, £20.00
In The Last Butterflies ecologist Nick Haddad describes his unique quest to work with, study and protect the rarest living butterfly species.
We meet six contenders for this poisoned chalice – Bay checkerspot, Fender’s blue, crystal skipper, Miami blue, St Francis’ satyr and Schaus’ swallowtail – and are enlightened as to why these species are rare, what scientists are learning about them and, most importantly, how their ongoing decline can be halted.
Haddad is extremely knowledgeable about this subject, and is also able to successfully communicate that knowledge to a wider audience. We learn remarkable stories about the biology of these butterflies, such as how the British large blue butterfly (now sadly extinct) was dependent on a single ant species for its survival and how an artillery range produced the natural disturbance required to become the last known stronghold of the St Francis’ satyr butterfly.
Although the book’s title isn’t overly optimistic, Haddad’s ‘positive vision’ is present throughout. One could even argue that the title does not do the author and his colleagues justice as it is thanks to the dedication of scientists and conservationists like Haddard that the butterflies described in the book will hopefully not be the last of their species.
Butterflies fly the flag for insect conservation. They are colourful, charismatic and enchanting. Indeed, these adjectives could also be used to describe the book. The Last Butterflies is essential summer reading for any naturalist.