The Jewel Box: How Moths Illuminate Nature's Hidden Laws

Tim Blackburn
Island Press, £20.00

We are creatures of the daylight, spending most of the night asleep, oblivious to life’s continuing struggles that take place in the hours of darkness. The light trap that opened Tim Blackburn’s eyes to the nocturnal world of flying Lepidoptera provides the title for this excellent primer on ecology.

The jewels that are attracted to the light are individuals of various species of moths that provide the basis of the book. The chapters cover a range of ecological topics from top-down predator control of populations to the factors that structure the communities of moths in different contexts. Even in London, Blackburn’s light trap finds exceptional species such as the Acer Sober, a species that didn’t officially exist when he found it.

What is clear is that Blackburn is a fan of moths and an expert in the ecology that underpins the natural world. His writing is light and breezy, and my only small gripe is that he can lapse into language suggesting that the species is the unit of selection, rather than the individuals within a species. That said, this is a book that will appeal to those who have a fascination for moths and want to understand the world in which they live.

I recommend this book to a broad audience. The rules that govern the natural world are the same no matter what the organism, including us, and Blackburn’s passion for the subject makes this a digestible entrée into nature’s workings.

Iain Gordon FRSB