4 November 2012

Review: A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil, by Alan Martin et al.

It's been over a year and a half since A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil, REGUA's first book, was published. Although hawkmoths (Sphingidae) are amongst the most popular of moth families, this guide, written by Alan Martin and co-authors Alexandre Soares and Jorge Bizarro, is the first identification guide to the Sphingidae of south-east Brazil. Back in September I spent a couple of weeks at REGUA in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, where I did a lot of mothing and was able to put the book to the test.

The Serra dos Órgãos mountains of Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state form part of the larger 1,500 km Serra do Mar - a mountain range that follows the Atlantic coastline in south-east Brazil within the Atlantic Forest biome. The Serra dos Órgãos still retain much of their forest cover and this guide covers the identification of 110 hawkmoth species recorded here.

The nomenclature of the species accounts follows Kitching and Cadiou (2000) but takes in changes made on the website CATE Sphingidae. Each species account, written in English only, includes information on key identification features (comparing differences to similar species) as well as distribution and size (forewing length). I would have preferred the guide to be laid out with the text and plate for each species on facing pages, but this is a minor point.

The majority of the book is comprised of the species accounts and colour identification plates. The plates were painstakingly created from photographs taken of pinned specimens housed at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. The dorsal and ventral views of both male and female of each species are included, each with the wings opened showing the hindwing (essential for the identification of many species). The plates are excellent, although perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the colours are a little faded compared to those on live specimens. Novices to Neotropical hawkmoths, like me, would find the addition of annotations on the plates that highlight the key ID features very useful.

My main criticism of using photos of pinned specimens for the plates is that no species are depicted as they appear at rest. As a result, when faced with an unidentified moth, I often found myself consulting the superb photos of live adults near the back of the book, which do show species at rest, before using the plates to separate similar species (see below). It's a real shame that photos for all species are not included, however, in practice I found the book easy to use and successfully identified all 21 species seen during my trip.

Images above from top left: Manduca hannibal hamilcar photographed at REGUA on 21 September 2012, species account, pinned specimen plate, and photo plate of Manduca hannibal hamilcar (click to enlarge).

Alan Martin has recently launching a new website to compliment the book (www.brazilhawkmoths.com). The website includes the same species accounts and plates as the book as well as a lot more photographs (although not of every species as yet) and an updated lists of the species recorded in the Serra dos Órgãos and at REGUA (the later with flight times), both lists being appendices in the book.

At the beginning of the book, written in both English and Portuguese, includes a history of the Atlantic Forest and its exploitation, an introduction to the Serra dos Órgãos region, hawkmoth taxonomy, life cycle, and a checklist of species found in the Serra dos Órgãos. Appendices provide additional information such as a short biography of the late pioneering entomologist Henry Pearson - one of the first to study the Lepidoptera of the region and whose data and specimens form the basis of this guide, as well as a short introduction to REGUA, where most of the photos for the book were taken.

Many of the hawkmoths found in the Serra dos Órgãos also occur in other parts of South America, and so the guide will also be of some use in other countries and regions. This book has certainly helped develop my interest in Neotropical Sphingidae and for anyone visiting the Atlantic Forest and interested in hawkmoths this guide is simply a must. It is now available direct from the authors at a reduced price of £15 plus postage (for details click here), and therefore an even bigger bargain than it was originally.

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