Naturalist’s Bookshelf 2: Braby’s Butterflies

braby butterfliesThe Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia

Michael Braby

Second edition, April 2016,

400 pp., pbk, $49.95

The publisher’s blurb for this book is so accurate and informative that I’m simply going to quote it:

As fascinating as they are beautiful, butterflies are a pleasure to watch and an important group of invertebrates to study. This second edition of the award-winning book The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia is a fully updated guide to all butterfly species on Australia’s mainland and remote islands.

Written by one of Australia’s leading lepidopterists, the book is stunningly illustrated with colour photographs, many of which are new, of each of the 435 currently recognised species. There is also a distribution map and flight chart for each species on the Australian mainland, together with information on similar species, variation, behaviour, habitat, status and larval food plants.

The introduction to the book covers adult structure, higher classification, distribution and habitats, as well as life cycle and behaviour. A new chapter on collecting and preserving butterflies is included. There is also an updated checklist of all species, a glossary, a bibliography and indexes of common and scientific names.

There isn’t much more that I need to say about this book except to explain its relationship to two others by the same author:

  • Butterflies of Australia (publisher’s page) appeared in 2000 as two substantial large-format hard-cover volumes describing ‘nearly 400’ species and was universally lauded for its completeness and presentation. It is still acknowledged as the standard reference; real copies are becoming harder to obtain but it is readily available as an e-book.
  • The first edition of the the Complete Field Guide (CSIRO 2004) documented 416 species in 352 pp, so the current edition represents a worthwhile step forward.
  • The sequence of the three books reminds us that we’re still discovering new species – about 10% in 16 years.

The bottom line is that if you only want one Australian butterfly book, the new edition of the Complete Field Guide is the one you want. There are other options, of course, but this one is authoritative and comprehensive while still being portable and affordable.

* Naturalists’ Bookshelf 1: Plants is here.

3 thoughts on “Naturalist’s Bookshelf 2: Braby’s Butterflies”

  1. Hello Malcom, thankyou so much for a delightful page, which by chance I have only just found. I arrived in Cairns two years ago and have been building a small garden to attract butterflies, of which Cairns has the most beautiful and plentiful imaginable, attracting over 20 species so far. I am very new at all this so it is a real learning curve, and what a delightful one.

    My neighbour and I both planted Aristolochia vines and are enjoying the watching and pupation of these creatures. She gave me my first caterpillar a fortnight ago and since then the females have been circling the area. So, here’s hoping they found the vine suitable.

    She has just sent me beautiful pics of one of her Birdwings pupating, and thanks to your page on emergence we now know why a huge caterpillar was on her Mother-in-law’s tongue. Unknowingly she thought it was lost and put it back on the vine, however I am sure it would have sorted itself out. We are now the wiser since I forwarded her your page.

    I reborrow Michael Brady’s Complete Guide from the library, which has been invaluable, so good to know he has a newer edition that would be as well for me to purchase. On a recent trip overseas I searched Cairns and surrounds to by a silk scarf featuring our magnificent butterflies…. nothing to be found. So, being of an artistic bent I decided to have a crack at it myself. Beginning days yet but the recipients have been totally awestruck…can’t do better than giving people happiness, can you.

    Hope to encounter more folks interested in butterflies here soon. Early days.



  2. A Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia: their life histories and larval host plants by Garry Sankowsky has just appeared and it changes the last line of my review of Braby’s book. It should now read, “The bottom line is that if you only want one Australian butterfly book, the new edition of the Complete Field Guide may be the one you want, but if you’re a gardener wanting to grow plants for butterflies then Sankowsky’s book is the better choice.”
    The new book is a solid 400 pages of excellent photos of living butterflies (not pinned specimens as in Braby) and caterpillars, and the plants they feed on as adults and (more importantly) as caterpillars. Coverage, the author admits, is not “complete” but – at 400 species – it is not far off.
    First impressions are that it is colourful, with the emphasis firmly on the photos rather than the text, but the text will be adequate for most readers. The photos of living insects in context are sometimes better for identification than pinned insects on a plain background – especially, for me, for the troublesome skippers and darts.
    The publisher’s page about it is
    cover of sankowsky butterfly guide

  3. Here’s another new field guide to butterflies: A Naturalist’s Guide to the Butterflies of Australia by Peter Rowland and Rachel Whitlock, published this year by John Beaufoy in association with Autralian Geographic as one of a series on Australian wildlife.
    Conveniently pocket-sized, it covers 300 species (i.e., about two thirds of Australia’s total) at two per page. Each appears as a good-sized photo of a living individual accompanied by a description and a summary of its range and habits. Before and after this core we find a few pages of general information about our butterflies, a checklist showing which state/s each species can be found in, and a good index.
    All in all it’s an attractive and useful volume. It’s only half the size of the books by Sankowsky or Braby but it’s a reasonable alternative to either of them.
    Author’s website –
    Publisher’s website –
    book cover

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