In Nouvelle Année, Nouveau Guide des Papillons, I introduced my speculative purchase of a French field guide to butterflies. I had wanted to replace my aging Collins Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe for some time and my decision to “go French” was based largely on v. disappointing reports of that publication’s latest incarnation, the Collins Butterfly Guide. Just check out a few of these reviews and you’ll see what I mean. The main problem seems to be errors in some distribution maps. A contact on iSpot spoke well of the French publication so I went French. OK, so, the French can be a bit of a challenge and there are no English common Names for the species, of course. Instead, the French vernacular names are used. Naturally, the scientific/binomial names are included and my basic plan was to resort to these, then cross-check for the English name.
Yesterday, I tried my plan for the first time in vengeance. I have a couple of dubiously identified Fritillaries and wanted to see what I could decide using the wonderful illustrations of Mr Lewington in the French book. I thought I had a photo of a Knapweed Fritillary so I looked up the scientific name in my old English Field Guide: Melitaea phoebe. Off to the new French publication’s index for Melitaea phoebe. It listed three Melitaea species but none of them were phoebe. There were several Mellicta species (also Fritillaries) but none of them were phoebe either. I’d fallen at the first hurdle.
On the good ol’ InterWeb, I eventually found a French butterfly website talking about a Cinclidia phoebe. Arghh! Back to the French index and, sure enough, there was Cinclidia phoebe and it was, indeed, the Knapweed Fritillary, or Mélitée des centaurées, as the French prefer to call it.
I contacted a very helpful man on one of the French butterfly websites (Butterflies of France) about the naming. He had not heard of Cinclidia but found it (on the InterWeb, of course) “in a historic context”. He also went on, very helpfully, to confirm my suspected id.
Scientific names are supposed to help cross language boundaries and ensure that we are all talking about the same thing. That only works if we all use the same name. Variable scientific names get us nowhere, it seems to me. I seem to have a more modern book but not the most recent names. Even the main name in France is Melitaea phoebe.
Oh, and just to add insult to injury, inside the front cover of my new French publication I spotted this:
L’édition originale Anglaise a paru chez HarperCollins Publishers sous le titre: Collins Field Guide of Butterflies of Britain and Europe.
At least the distribution maps are corrected, though.