MV Blog


Guide to Victorian butterflies

by Simon
Publish date
10 September 2013
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Dr Ross Field, a former head of Sciences at Museum Victoria, has compiled a spectacular book on one of his passions: butterflies of Victoria. Butterflies: Identification and life history is the result of many years of painstaking work on Ross’s part and covers all aspects of the lifecycle of these eternally popular insects.

Egg Tailed Emperor Butterfly Lateral view of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly egg
Image: Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria

Incredible images take readers through the lifecycle of each species from egg, through caterpillar and the food plant it eats, pupa and finally adult. The magnified images of the eggs are stunning and allow us to view and admire objects usually too small to notice. The eggs can be ornamented, ribbed, round or cigar shaped and come in a range of colours. Depending on the viewer some people see a range of jellies or blancmanges when they look at some of these images, (or maybe that’s just me). In fact a selection of these egg shots is touring selected Victorian cultural venues as part of The Art of Science exhibition.

  Caterpillar larva Tailed Emperor Caterpillar of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria

Collecting the eggs of numerous species for photographing was a big undertaking; Ross has spent many hours in a host of locations watching butterflies circle until they land to lay their eggs. A sample of the eggs were collected and brought back to Melbourne Museum to be photographed using our camera/microscope set up. Prior to this book, anyone other than an expert who collected an egg would have to wait until the egg hatched and the caterpillar had reached one of its later instars before being able to hazard a guess at the species. With this new guide, the ability for the general public to undertake identifications in the field is greatly expanded.    

Pupa Tailed Emperor Pupa of the Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria

The egg images might also raise questions such as why do butterflies from the Pieridae family tend to lay cigar shaped eggs? Why do the eggs of some species have a series of lateral ribs running around the surface? Is there an evolutionary advantage to laying sculptured eggs? In short, this comprehensive field guide gives a new vision into the fascinating world of Victorian butterflies and helps to educate and provoke our interest into further research and conservation. 

Adult Tailed Emperor butterfly Adult Tailed Emperor Butterfly
Image: Ross Field
Source: Museum Victoria


Butterflies: Identification and life history. A Museum Victoria field guide by Ross Field. Available in paperback from MV shops or as an eBook from  iTunes or Booktopia.

Melbourne Zoo: 10 steps to a butterfly garden

John Abbot’s Lepidoptera

by Hayley
Publish date
8 March 2013
Comments (1)

The MV Library holds an important collection of 18th and 19th century scientific literature. Many of these books began as working tools for early museum curators studying the local fauna. Now, they form part of our rare book collection and are prized for their beauty and rarity.

The library's collection has an interesting history, forming from the amalgamation of two specialist collections from the National Museum of Victoria and Science Museum. Books have been purchased since the earliest days of the National Museum of Victoria, when the first director, Frederick McCoy, acquired important titles such as the entomological works of Maria Sybilla Merian.

While the library collection at MV is relatively small, it is also surprisingly unique. Library staff are currently working to identify titles unique to Australian libraries, a project which has exposed some real gems in the collection, such as John Abbot’s The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia (1797).

Tab V, ‘American Brimstone Butterfly’ Tab V, ‘American Brimstone Butterfly’ via the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Abbot left his native England in 1773 for the colony of Virginia in North America, in order to procure specimens and make drawings of the local insects. Following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, Abbot moved to Georgia, where he spent the rest of his life recording the local insects and birds.

Tab XLIX, ‘Corn Emperor Moth’ Tab XLIX, ‘Corn Emperor Moth’ via the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Although he was a prolific natural history artist and well regarded in his lifetime, Abbot is not as well remembered as some of his contemporaries, who included famous naturalists such as John James Audubon. While he is thought to have created four to five thousand watercolours, most of them were unpublished or uncredited during his lifetime.

The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia includes 104 hand-coloured plates by John Harris, after original artwork by John Abbot. It's an important early work to depict North American butterflies and moths, and has been appreciated by scientists and collectors alike for its accuracy as well as its beauty. The introduction was written by James Edward Smith, a founder of The Linnean Society of London.

While it is exciting to encounter rare material in our collection, it is also nice to be able to share it. Luckily, the work has been digitised and is now freely accessible through the Biodiversity Heritage Library, so have a browse online or download your own copy of this rare work!


Gilbert, P. & Hamilton, C., Entomology: A Guide to Information Sources, London & New York: Mansell, 1990.

Gilbert, P., John Abbot: Birds, Butterflies and Other Wonders, London: Merrell Holberton and Natural History Museum, 1998.

Job, Frank, “The Library of Museum Victoria” in Rasmussen, C. (ed.), A Museum for the People: A History of Museum Victoria and its Predecessors, 1854-2000, Carlton North, Vic.: Scribe Publications, 2001.

Rogers-Price, Vivian & Griffin, William W., "John Abbot: Pioneer-Naturalist of Georgia," Magazine Antiques (October 1983): 768-75.

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.