Monday 20th November 2017

Another little coincidence

One of things I enjoy is the little coincidences that seem to pepper my life, and there are plenty of them. The most recent one concerns a butterfly that I found in the Hangzhou Botanic Gardens back on 5th November. It was a new species for me, but I recognised it as a Tree Brown, a member of the genus Lethe. Just out of interest, in classical Greek mythology Lethe was a river in the Underworld whose water would induce forgetfulness in those who drank it.

I knew this butterfly belonged to the genus Lethe, but I could not narrow it down to species level

Narrowing it down to a species was not easy, as I do not (yet) possess a complete book of Chinese butterflies. The only one available is a four-volume masterpiece, Butterflies of China, by Wu Chunseng and Xu Yufeng, in Chinese, and costing around £600. I may well invest in this set at some future date, but for the moment I am forced to resort to books on the butterflies of Japan, Nepal and India, and this particular Lethe does not appear in any of them.

However, while searching the internet for images of any cheaper books on Chinese butterflies that might exist, I was astonished to find the image below, on the website of China Scientific Book Services, www.hcis.com. It depicts a plate from a totally different book, Atlas of Butterflies of Mount Qinling-Bashan (a mountain area in Shaanxi Province, in mid-western China), by Xu Jiazhu and Wei Huanzhi. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, among the approximately 1700 butterfly species that have been recorded to date in China, one of the two species that feature on the page selected to appear on the internet to represent that book depicts “my” Lethe….and there is absolutely no doubt that it was Lethe syrcis.

The lower of the two butterfly species on this page is Lethe syrcis, “my” butterfly!

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