Collecting, Watching, and Catch-And-Release

Chris Durden drdn at
Fri Jun 18 11:30:25 EDT 1999

  John Acorn and I are probably very similar in our observational
behaviour.  I rarely carry a net on home turf and find I see more this way,
and get better looks. I do however carry a net in unknown terrain, not
knowing what to expect and not wanting to carry the memory of a half view
of some unrecognized puzzler.
  What I dislike about those members of NABA who are acting to supress
collecting is their discouragement of youthful collectors. Collecting is
the best way to learn the species in your area and learn to accurately
identify them. Without accurate identification all the observations in the
world are suspect, especially the ones we are most interested in. 
  Regarding the effect of collecting on rare species - I know of no
instance where collecting of butterflies has been the force primarily
responsible for extinction of a species or subspecies. In all cases I am
aware of, loss of habitat and foodplant, with accompanied range reduction,
caused by unrelated land use practices or industrial practices, has
preceeded any collecting pressure on the population. I could say a lot more
on this subject related to bug-zappers, outdoor lighting, use of Raid in
your tent in National Parks, fogging for mosquitos, spraying for fire ants
and medflies, chaining rangeland, sagebrush suppression, and habitat
restoration, but I won't, but please lay of the little kids who want to
make a butterfly collection. A lot of naturalists and naturalist-scientists
strated out this way. Most collectors are unlikely to take more specimens
by net than they already do with their cars.
............Chris Durden

At 08:24 AM 1999:06:18 -0600, you wrote:
>Butterfliers and Lepidopterists,
>Chris Durden wrote about himself:  "Why am I not a member of NABA? I am not
>willing to
>encourage the efforts of some of their members to suppress butterfly
>collecting."  I would like to comment, as a member of both NABA and the Lep.
>When I began promoting butterfly watching as an alternative to collecting, I
>did so for two main reasons:  1) it was clearly possible to identify
>butterflies at a distance, at least to the extent that one can identify
>birds, and 2) collecting is hard work, and that discourages people.  I never
>meant to give the impression that collecting was evil, only that there is an
>alternative way.  But the world has always wanted to believe that butterfly
>collectors are evil (just look at how they have been portrayed in film and
>literature), so I soon realized I had little control over that.  As C.
>Eugene Emery Jr. wrote in the Sceptical Inquirer, "The human brain seems
>programmed to give more weight to one well-told story than to piles of data
>suggesting that the story is false."
>Soon, however, I realized that the people I was influencing also felt that
>chasing butterflies while fiddling with binoculars was hard work.  They, on
>thier own initiative, gravitated to catch-and-release.  So I thought about
>it, agreed with them, and started promoting catch-and-release.  On my own, I
>use optics more often than not, by the way, and leave the net in the car,
>but clearly many people find it much easier to learn about butterflies with
>them in the hand.
>Then I found myself in a middle ground, where some pro-collectors mistook me
>for their enemy, and some anti-collectors mistook me for their enemy.  Nets,
>it seemed, were evil too-- and nerdy.  But we have had such great success
>with catch-and-release here in Alberta, I can't let go of the idea that this
>is yet another fine way to promote butterfly appreciation, based on an
>angling model, so to speak (trout fishermen especially, are now almost
>fanatical about catch-and-release), rather than a birding model.  After all,
>butterflies are not birds, and they are not fishes, so why not explore the
>I agree that NABA serves to suppress collecting, even though they officially
>deny it, and may not realize how strongly their actions affect traditional
>entomology by influencing the decisions of protected areas management, and
>the hands-off approach to nature in general.  The greatest sadness I feel
>about NABA is that its publications give the impression that butterfly
>watching is a fully developed idea, and not a work in progress.  "American
>Butterflies" is in my opinion not an open forum for discussion of new ways
>to approach butterflies, but rather a vehicle for promoting one particular
>activity while suppressing all mention of the alternatives.  As such, it
>presents "one well-told story," and subtly works against the rational
>discussions that we need so much right now.
>John Acorn

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