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Book Review: Butterflies of Saudi Arabia and its Neighbours

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by Michael P.T. Gillett

The following article appeared in the Al Ain Newsletter of May 1995

Butterflies of Saudi Arabia and its Neighbors by Torben B. Larsen

Although not a new book, having been published originally in 1984, this is a new addition to the Al Ain ENHG library. It is a most worthwhile book and I have used my person copy to good effect for a number of years. Larsen’s book will be useful to both the committed entomologist and the complete novice who might just want to name the butterflies that visit his/her garden in Al Ain. Unlike the scientific accounts of Arabian butterflies that have appeared in various volumes of the Fauna of Saudi Arabia, this book has plenty of color and deals effectively with the biology of the Arabian species. There are very many photographs of actual specimens in the wild as well as cabinet set specimens allowing all known Arabian species to be identified. The life histories of most species and their foodplants are described and there are good sections on butterfly habits and the rather complicated origins of the Arabian butterfly fauna as well as a potted history of the contributions made by different explorers and entomologists to the development of our present (incomplete) knowledge of this fauna.

The butterflies covered include all those known for the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the Yemen as well as for Saudi Arabia – a grand total of about 150 species. Of course, only a small fraction of these can possibly be seen in the Al Ain area, mainly because many species are restricted in Arabia to the Yemen and are essentially African species or are found only on high mountain tops in western Saudi Arabia. The regional distribution of all species is indicated in a table at the end of the book, but this should only be taken as provisional since such lists are constantly modified. A more recent list of UAE butterflies by Bish Brown was published in Tribulus a few years ago, but even this is now out of date. many Arabian butterflies are strongly migratory and can appear suddenly in areas where previously they have not been noted. I am presently writing up an article to update Bish Brown’s list of 35 species with the following: Clouded Yellow (Sir Bani Yas Island), Pomegranate Playboy, Less Millet Skipper, African Emigrant and Diadem (all from gardens in Al Ain during recent months). Three other species not on the UAE list, the Baluchi Ringlet, Yellow Pansy and Scarlet Tip, have been seen in Omani territory very near to the UAE border and will probably also eventually find their way onto the UAE list. So whether you just want to identify common butterflies in your Al Ain garden or contribute records of species new to the region this book is a must. By borrowing it you may be taking your first step towards becoming a butterfly spotter, lepidopterist or contributor of invaluable records for our region.


Patron: H.E. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan