Adventures of a Small Game Hunter in Jamaica by Max Overton (Autobiography)

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Dr. Susan Koenig, Windsor Research Centre, Trelawny, Jamaica,
Apr 10, 2016
Max Overton has published an amazing gem of natural history.

His descriptions of butterflies and their behaviours - from the rapid, assertive flight of Blue Kites, to Calisto's association with the deep shade of a forest, to the two Historis species' attraction to fermenting fruit--all revealed him to be a keen observer and a reliable young "expert" far beyond his pre-teen years. His collections of an '88' and an '89' butterfly (i.e., Cramer's 88 butterfly, Diaethria clymena) certainly merit re-evaluation, particularly in light of the fact that this species has been reported to stray as far north as South Florida. It also reminds us that we should always be vigilant to look for natural 'blow over' events. As an amusing aside, in its natural mainland range from Mexico to South America, the larvae of the '88' feed on Trema micrantha, a plant commonly called "Jamaican nettletree".

Although the author's primary love clearly was butterflies, his descriptions of birds and lizards also highlight his ability to reliably describe wildlife. This leads to another hidden treasure in this book: his description of a Jamaican Iguana (Cyclura collei) in Hellshire Hills is the only reported sighting during the period of the late 1940s through the 1960s when this endemic species was feared to be extinct. Overton's observation gives us a link from 1940, when the last iguanas were collected in the wild for a (failed) captive-breeding effort to the subsequent discovery of an iguana carcass in Hellshire by a pig hunter in 1970 and the discovery of a live Jamaican Iguana in 1990. It reminds this reviewer of how important it is to keep up with her field notes as one never knows what mundane, daily event could prove important or interesting for someone in the future.

Unfortunately, many of the gardens and woodlands along the gullies described by the author no longer exist: in Kingston, much has been paved-over and converted to apartments and commercial buildings. However, as more residents recognise that they would like (and need!) 'green space' in their lives, Max Overton's records of the diversity of butterflies in the early 1960s gives us a baseline to which we can aspire for improving green space in the Kingston urban landscape.

This reviewer hopes that the infectious enthusiasm woven throughout the book will inspire young (and old!) Jamaicans to explore and enjoy their natural world. Today's 'small game watchers' have the best technology in their hands - with smartphones and digital cameras, everyone can record gems of natural history.
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