Killing butterflies

Kenelm Philip fnkwp at
Tue Sep 22 04:17:31 EDT 1998

	Since I am one of the people who responded to Eric Wahlgren's re-
quest for information and thus aroused Terry Rodbards' ire, I would like to
make some comments (and beg the forgiveness of those who have had enough
of this topic).

	I understand that amateur collecting of butterflies is frowned
upon by many people in the UK--but Sweden is not the UK. (I am reminded
of Ceasar's remark (in Shaw's play) about his British secretary, who be-
lieves that all mankind should follow the customs of his island.) As far
as teaching a 13 year old how to handle butterfly specimens--I began col-
lecting at the age of 7, and did not learn about pinching until about 20
years later. I would have been overjoyed if some helpful soul had told me
about the technique when I started, so I could have stopped lugging a large
cyanide jar into the field. In Fairbanks, Alaska, where I now live, 13 year
olds are out helping their parents to kill _moose_ about now--and butter-
flies are in no danger from collecting. I presume the inhabitants of Sweden
can be allowed to decide for themselves whether amateur (or professional)
butterfly collecting should be allowed.

	Terry said:

> Enjoying these beautiful creatures I find find it abhorant that I could
> play some sought of God and decide what should live.

	It is very anthropomorphic to decide that beautiful insects should
receive better treatment than ugly ones--yet a number of people feel that
way. As far as ethical treatment of insects goes--an insect is an insect.
(I gather that mosquitoes are fantastically beautiful when seen with a

	As Mark Walker just pointed out, we kill thousands of insects as
we go about our lives, both directly and indirectly. As long as we do not
imperil a species, I have no problem with collecting a few butterflies
either for scientific or hobby purposes. I started as a hobbyist--and now
I am carrying out the first survey of Alaskan lepidoptera, a task that
really needed doing by _someone_. Without my childhood interest in but-
terfly collecting, I doubt I would now be exploring the butterfly fauna
of the western North American Arctic, and helping the Smithsonian improve
its coverage of this corner of the continent.

	As for the necessity of collecting, taxonomists still need access
to _specimens_. Here in Alaska, museum curators are still adding birds and
mammals to their collections, let alone insects. Photographs (as I explain-
ed about a year ago) are not enough. Taxonomists usually have to have
_series_ of specimens to cope with variation. Geographic variation needs
to be documented, so series from a number of locations are needed. The UK
butterfly fauna may be so well known now that no additional specimens are
needed--but that is not true in North America, and may not be true through-
out Sweden for all I know.

	Amateur collectors have played a _major_ role in building up the
major museum collections of the world, which form a priceless (in some
cases an irreplaceable) taxonomic resource. Responsible amateurs take care
to donate useful material to museums, many of which lack the financial
resources or staff to acquire this material on their own. In addition, some
amateurs (for example: Paul Gray, who was just referred to on this list)
go on to become world authorities on various groups of insects. We need
to _encourage_ amateurs, and then get them interested in going deeper
into their interests. The world is running desperately short of expert
taxonomists for many groups of insects...

	As far as dissection goes, how does Terry think a major opus like
Wigglesworth's book on insect physiology gets written? There are still many
aspects of insect physiology that need more work.

	As others have pointed out, insect collecting is an activity that
can increase one's interest in natural history. The same is true, of course,
of insect photography, or insect watching. My position on this general
subject is that we should attempt to be more tolerant of the way that other
people express their interests. There's room for all of us... Collecting
of non-endangered species is _not_ the problem. Foreign introductions and
habitat destruction are the forces we need to unite in fighting, if we
really want to have butterflies around. Squabbling over collecting versus
photography or watching is a waste of effort that could be better used
in cooperation.
	Finally, Eric _asked_ for this information. To my mind, withholding
knowledge from a curious mind is a worse sin than killing an insect.

							Ken Philip
fnkwp at

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