A handy pocket guide to the beauty and biodiversity of East Africa’s butterflies

From left, Pippa Parker , Dr Dino Martins, Eric
From left, Pippa Parker , Dr Dino Martins, Eric Gitonga and Martha Mutiso at the launch of ‘Butterflies of East Africa’ in Nairobi. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Just as the world was paying tribute to the man who immortalised his inimitable boxing style by describing it as floating “like a butterfly” and stinging “like a bee”, Kenya’s own “Dudu man”, the Harvard University-trained entomologist and evolutionary biologist, Dr Dino Martin, was launching his Butterflies of East Africa pocket guide book at Yaya Centre, even as he promised to bring out his next book Bees of East Africa within the next year.

Muhammad Ali was not only a heavyweight boxing legend and champion who embodied the spirit of Black Power and liberation for people of colour all over the world.

He was a spoken word genius whose poetry was precise, direct and vivid. When he equated his boxing technique with a “butterfly”, he knew it‘d be easy for people to think of the beauty, grace and lightness of that elegant bug.

It just so happens that East Africa is one region of the world where the vast diversity and variegated beauty of butterflies is manifest, as one will see in Dr Martin’s pocket guide which he co-authored with another biologist and entomologist Steve Collins, founder of the African Butterfly Research Institute.

Nearly 250 species of butterflies which Martin and Collins found and photographed (in high resolution) are included in this handy paperback.

Other photographers like Eric Gitonga and Martha Mutiso also contributed to the amazing assortment of exquisitely colourful and divinely designed innocent insect from across the region (spanning Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi).

Martin admits that their book reflects only a fraction of the rich biodiversity of butterflies in East Africa, which he says is “home to over 2,500 different species of butterfly, a sizeable percentage of the 20,000 that have (thus far) been described globally.”

Both Martins and Collins are prolific writers whose documented research findings are mostly found in scholarly scientific journals.

It was Martins’ meeting with Pippa Parker, a senior editor with Struit House) that got him thinking about putting together a series of pocket guides popularising the subject closest to his heart since childhood, namely insects.