The expression, "Dead Butterflies"

Anne Kilmer viceroy at
Thu Jun 7 12:28:27 EDT 2001

And yet dead butterflies can be very useful indeed. Live ones move
around such a lot. 
There are two butterfly "collections" framed in an antique shop in
Castlebar (Co. Mayo. Ireland) in case anyone cares to buy them. One
costs 280 pounds; the other 180. The former is mostly moths, actually,
and they seem to be cream-colored. Faded. I think.  
The latter is artistically arranged and leans toward rosettes of small
tortoiseshells and such. 
Some have fallen to dust, and I pity the innocent buyer who tries to get
those bugs out of the country. I have no doubt some are endangered, one
way or another. 
And yet, they came in handy as I tried to get my friend to pick out the
"female Orange-Tip" she claimed to have seen. 
I am trying to learn my whites, and the photos and illustrations of
whites, whether alive or dead, are bloody useless. Here I am juggling
four books and cursing. What I need is the bug sitting still on its
bush. Dead also works. 
Nor am I about to break either my legs nor the butterfly's by trying to
net them for a closer look. I am, in Anna Russell's fine phrase, built
for comfort and not for speed. 
I am reminded of a luxurious day out with a bunch of butterfliers in
Northern Ireland, when the butterflies that came to hand were netted and
shown to us; then released. Someone (was it Trevor?) had brought along a
Purple Emperor moth, who crawled out of his carrying case and sleepily
waddled into a nearby bush, as we all applauded. 
The illustrations in Scott are certainly an example of "dead
butterflies". They are so faded as to be worthless. 
The illustration of butterfly books is by no means an easy art. What we
need is pictures that look like the butterfly. We need to see the
underwings, as the butterfly looks when at rest. We need to see the tops
of the wings, as the butterfly looks in flight. Unless we are
collectors, we are not going to see what the butterfly looks like,
spread and pinned. 
But many photographs have Kodak colors in an Ektachrome world. They
don't match up to the real thing. Lush and lovely they may be, but true
to life (or death) they ain't. 
I think the issue here, Leroy, is that it's hard to identify live bugs,
from dead bug pictures. If NABA has also suffused this with their
emotional syrup, I'm sorry about that. 
I have as much reverence for life as the next man, but shucks, folks,
they're just bugs. 
The butterflies in the glass cases, put up in the Victorian age, would
be dead now anyway. And, because they are under glass, they are still
Cold comfort, I suppose, if you happen to be the bug and had other plans
for the day. 
The best of my butterfly books is Dr. Norman Hickin's The Butterflies of
Ireland. That is the best of both worlds: four pages of color plates (we
haven't many butterflies here, you know) showing pinned butterflies.
And, in the chapter on each butterfly, pen sketches of the living
animal, showing posture and markings. 
It's not enough ... the darn bugs look different at different seasons,
and so forth, and I wouldn't care but I'm supposed to turn in a list of
what I've got. 
I prefer to just wave affectionately and plant a few more nasturtiums,
but the scientists .. ah, they must be served. 
How should I have reacted, I wonder, back in Florida, when the little
boys visiting next door came wandering into my garden waving butterfly
Actually I tried to capture them in friendly fashion, and teach them all
about butterflies, but they fled. Alas. But you are no more welcome in
my garden with your net than you would be in my chickenyard with your
shotgun, unless you have asked permission. 
I can certainly see why the NABA butterfliers of the Carolinas might not
wish to welcome collectors waving nets into their gardens.  I think I'd
also ban cameras, in hopes that your great flat feet might therefore
stay off my pansies. But I am nearly as cantankerous as Leroy. 
Anne Kilmer

Leptraps at wrote:
> The words "dead butterflies" seems to be another expression of the anti collecting movement. Jeffrey Glassberg used the term "dead butterflies" in a recent book review, it has appeared in a number of recent postings on this and other lists, and, the term "illustration of specimens" has been replaced by "pictures of dead butterfies" by many watchers and those associated with NABA.
> If you are a Lepidopterist, it almost makes you want to spit!
> Clearing my throat,
> Leroy C. Koehn
> 202 Redding Road
> Georgetown, KY
>      40324-2622
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
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