There have always been field guides to butterflies and moths, my favorite types of insects. My biggest complaint with them though is that they are never complete; they are always missing some important aspect for each species. For the most part, these guides concentrate on the adult butterfly or moth, rarely showing the other three stages of development (egg, larva and pupa). I am guessing that the main reason for this is cost and eventual size of the book. To show all four stages of each species, and then perhaps images of both the male and female, along with text, would create a book that is cost prohibitive.
In 2005, Princeton University Press released a book that helped fill the missing gap with many field guides on Lepidoptera. The book, “Caterpillars of Eastern North America,” is a wonderful companion guide that can be used with the very best Lepidoptera field guides out there. David L. Wagner, has a much-needed hit on his hands with this release. He is no stranger to guides on caterpillars either as in 2012 he released the out of print and in high demand book, “Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America.”
Despite its size of 512 pages, it is still compact enough to bring with you in the field. Most of the 700 species covered feature a full page devoted to them and the photographs are amazing. Though the concentration is of course on the caterpillars, the adult butterfly or moth is often shown as well. For most of the species, the page is broken down into four categories (Recognition, Occurrence, Common Foodplants and Remarks). There are more than 1,200 photos, sometimes showing caterpillars for the first time in a guide! Dozens of new foodplant records are presented and erroneous records are corrected which is essential for those of us that raise butterflies and moths each season.
I cannot recommend this book enough as it is one of the most important books on identifying Lepidoptera that has been released in a long time. It is extremely easy to use and is a must-have in every nature library. The question is though, if you are out hiking and don’t have the guide with you, how can you identify that weird caterpillar crossing the path? Easy, there is an app as well!
The app is also by Wagner and is a digital pocket guide to the book! It covers 576 species using the same amazing photos in the book and 383 of these species also feature pictures of the adult butterfly or moth. My favorite aspect of this app is that there is an easy-to-use section to let you identify caterpillars by plugging in certain noticeable characteristics of the caterpillar you wish to identify. I tried this multiple times on caterpillars I am very familiar with and every time, the caterpillar I wanted to identify showed up in the results.
You can order your own copy by going to Princeton University Press HERE. You can also get the amazing app by clicking HERE for more information. You may also order the book in either paperback or Kindle editions through Amazon by going HERE.