Butterflies Across Cape Cod

Review by Alison Robb

Butterflies Across Cape Cod; A Guide To Finding, Attracting and Observing Butterflies On the Cape.

By Mark J. Mello and Tor Hansen. Cape Cod Museum of Natural History & Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies. John Hay Institute Publication No. 1. January 2004. 114 pages. Bibliohgraphy, Appendix of Latin names, index.

The first butterfly guide for Cape Cod is truly a guide — a guide to the species and a guide to many sites. There is a section on basic understanding of the anatomy and life cycles of butterflies and their host plants, as well as information and education on butterfly conservation. Thirteen fine line drawings by Tor Hansen illustrate this section.

The preface is by John Hay, noted naturalist, writer and first director of the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History.

Each of the 76 species known as residents or common immigrants to Cape Cod is represented with its very carefully described appearance, its habits, range, habitat, food plants and flight periods. On 16 plates are color photographs of live insects in the field, the majority of which were taken by Tor Hansen, naturalist, photographer, illustrator. There is a key to families and subfamilies of butterflies.

Then follows a section about habitats — wetlands, grasslands, old fields, Scrub Oak barrens — illustrating the host and food plants therein. Unique to this guide is the section which lists and fully describes particular sites on the Cape, the habitats within, and the butterflies to be found there. Explicit directions are given to each site. They are sited on a central map of Cape Cod.

This is one section which sets this guide apart from others. Should I decide to visit Evans Field in Provincetown, I find a description of the habitat — a wet meadow with wild cranberry bog on the west side nurturing the Bog Copper, wetland/woods edge where the Appalachian Brown is found. Other less common species are the Striped Hairstreak, Silver-bordered Fritillary and Brown and Pine Elfins in season.

Should I be looking for a site in Barnstable, I might choose to visit the Cape Cod Airport at Marstons Mills, which provides ideal grassland habitat and woodland fringe for a wide range of butterflies. “Over thirty-five species have been seen by the authors at the this site, a remarkably high number for a single site on Cape Cod.”

The index contains all references to butterfly and plant common and latin names as well as site localities, morpological definitions, and organizations.

Author Mark J. Mello was attracted to moths at the age of six when he observed the emergence of aCecropia from its cocoon.. His attention has hardly strayed except to include butterflies in his studies. and coastal ecology of Cape Cod. He earned a Master’s of Science in Zoology at the University of Maryland. In 1986 he was appointed Coordinator of Research at the Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies; he was Director of the Lloyd Center from 1990 -1999 and is currently its Director of Research.

Tor Hansen studied butterflies and moths at an equally early age and all through his youth. He majored in Zoology at the University of Arizona and earned a Master of Fine Arts from the City University of New York. This combination, plus endless hours of observation in the field, enabled him to become an extraordinarily fine biology illustrator and artist. He lectures with his photographic slides on butterfly ecology and evolutionary biology, leads field walks for several organizations including the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, and continues to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with school children.

The importance of butterflies to the web of life as pollinators and as a food source of most of our neotropical migrant birds is emphasized by both authors.

I find that this little book is just what I have been waiting for as a Cape Cod guide to butterflies, and more. It is readable, intriguing with its site descriptions, well designed for carrying in the field, (about 6″ x 8″) with a spiral binding. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History plans a program of butterfly classes and field trips this coming season, as does Nature’s Circle in Falmouth, with this guide as a welcome basis of study and information and with the authors in person when possible.

Highly recommended.

Alison Robb nature@cape.com