NY Times Butterflying Article
monarch at saber.net
Fri Jun 8 15:18:12 EDT 2001
Dameron, Wanda wrote:
> A good article you may wish to read: Cheers, WD
I have posted this NABA NY Times article below without permission.
Seems amazing that an organization that claims it's purpose
is to "increase public enjoyment of butterflies" works so
hard to discourage the public from collecting and pinning or
breeding and releasing butterflies.
Paul Cherubini, Placerville, California
Butterflying: A Pastime Without Pins
By JAMES GORMAN
James Gorman/The New York Times
Jeffrey Glassberg, author of a field guide to butterflies, stalking his prey
with a lens.
We've been butterflying. We've seen Hobomok Skippers, small vivid
patches of yellow, brown and orange against the intense blue and yellow
of iris blooms. We've watched a bright yellow, and much larger, Tiger
Swallowtail swoop in the distance. We've noted the marks on a Red
Admiral's wings and tried to plumb the depths of color in a Red-Spotted
Purple.It has been about an hour since we started prowling meadows at the
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, N.Y., and Jeffrey Glassberg
is explaining the beginnings of butterflying, which is not at all the same as
He is not, however, explaining the story in linear fashion.
Digressions flutter up in his conversation as butterflies rise from the grass.
As he spots each new pair of wings, his thoughts fly off, usually to land on
some arcane bit of butterfly knowledge. "Bird studies started with people
taking shotguns. That's what Audubon did. He shot birds.
Then in the 20's. . . . There's another Red-Spotted Purple, the Red-Spotted
Purple is a gorgeous. . . . So, what happened was really optics got. . . . Now
wait a minute, let's go slowly here. . . . A lot of butterflies like damp gravel.
They come to gravel for salts, especially males, because when they mate, a
lot of the males pass a large amount of salt to the female. A lot of butterflies
go to excrement. Same idea: salt, proteins."
Dr. Glassberg is dressed in the fashion one would expect of a butterfly
chaser rumpled hat, binoculars and camera, pants tucked into socks to
fend off ticks. (I didn't take this precaution and ended up having to extricate
a tick from my thigh.) But he talks rapid-fire, with absolute confidence and
the unsentimental world view of a laboratory scientist. This is no accident,
since the doctorate he holds is in molecular biology. Techniques he patented
for identifying DNA, and the biotech company he helped form and later sold,
are the reason he has been able to spend full time on butterflies for the last
Eventually he returns to his point, but not before pointing out a Red- Spotted
Purple extending its tongue into the gravel of the path we were walking
on salt again. In essence, Dr. Glassberg says, optics developed in World
War I resulted in binoculars good enough and available enough to allow the
people who liked to look at birds to put away the shotguns favored by Audubon
and his colleagues. Birders began using binoculars to spot and identify birds in
the 1920's, he says, beginning in and around New York City. Roger Tory
Peterson published his first field guide in 1934, and the rest is history. Bring
a shotgun along on an Audubon Christmas bird count and see the reaction.
The same thing has been happening with the pursuit of butterflies, says Dr.
It started in the early 80's, in New York, with people in the New York City
Butterfly Club. One of the members found some pocket binoculars that
focused close enough (less than six feet) to make them useful for looking
at butterflies. And that, says Dr. Glassberg, was the beginning of the end
of the net and pin. Butterfly collecting still goes on, some of it with a
scientific purpose. But for the leisurely pleasure of enjoying butterflies,
Dr. Glassberg recommends looking instead of catching.
The eminent biologist E. O. Wilson put it this way in a foreword to Dr.
Glassberg's first butterfly field guide. He wrote that despite his particular
devotion to ants, he was often tempted by the pleasure of butterflies, "but
not to kill and pin specimens." He added: "Most of those who search for
butterflies in settled areas have matured to the level of birders. The game
now is to find, identify, enjoy and leave alone."
Soon after he helped found the club, Dr. Glassberg started writing guidebooks,
with photographs of living butterflies, and he founded the North American
Butterfly Association, which now has 4,000 members. This compares to roughly
22,000 members for the American Birding Association.
But that's only for now, said Dr. Glassberg."I think, I really do, that 25 years
from now," he says,
pausing in the middle to note another Hobomok Skipper, a few other varieties
of butterflies and a hummingbird moth on a pinkster bush, which by the way,
is listed as a vulnerable plant (not quite threatened, but worth worrying about)
by New York State, "I think that 25 years from now butterflying will be
bigger than birding."The rewards are obvious. Butterflies are beautiful, and
they are everywhere. They are closely tied to their habitats, so that when you
learn about them you also learn about the place, its plants and the change of
seasons. You can pursue them lazily, or obsessively, keeping a life list.
But except for a few large ones, they aren't that easy to see. Many aren't
much bigger than a thumbnail. You can stand in a field and see specks of
orange, bits of beige, things flitting in the corner of your eye and think,
well, there's a lot of something here.
That's where binoculars come in. With them you see four elegant eyespots
on the subtle, dusky wing of a Little Wood Satyr, or the striations on an
antenna, or the oily, brilliant sheen on a wing fresh out of the chrysalis.
"It all depends on your optics," says Dr. Glassberg. "It changes your
view of the world," he says. "Otherwise it looks like nothing out there."
But when a small skipper fills your lens, Dr. Glassberg says, "It's as
big as a tiger." I envision a giant carnivore for a moment, thinking that
my guide's passion has gotten away with him, before I realize that he's
talking about a Tiger Swallowtail.
There is something profoundly subversive about this change of focus.
"Butterflies open up this whole other world," Dr. Glassberg says. "You
start looking close." And you see more than butterflies, like a shockingly
irridescent green tiger beetle or a damselfly decorated with electric blue.
Not to mention dragonflies. Suddenly insects require more attention and
thought. Lenses are a great test case for any discussion of how technology
can affect culture. Change the way you look at the world and you change
the way you think about it as well.
Butterflies are easy to love, of course. But they're just the beginning. Dr.
Glassberg is editing a series of guidebooks that already include "Dragonflies
Through Binoculars." One on damselflies is in the works, and another is
planned on caterpillars, which, of course, have their own mysteries.
The caterpillars of some butterflies, the Edward's Hairstreak, for instance,
spend their days in ant colonies, secreting a sweet liquid for the ants, which
protect them. At night they emerge from the ground, crawl up the trunks of
scrub oaks and feed on the leaves. At dawn, it's back to the ants.
After 10 years of full-time pursuit of butterflies, Dr. Glassberg shows no
decrease in enthusiasm. While we were looking at damselflies I started to
take a step toward them and stopped dead when I heard him say: "Don't
move! There's a butterfly by your feet." It was a Pepper and Salt Skipper.
"That's a very rare butterfly here," he said. "That's only the second one
I've seen here."
If his enthusiasm is unbounded, so are his plans. The butterfly association
is establishing a searchable database on the Web so that butterfliers will be
able to send in sightings and come back weeks or years later to find when
and where they saw that Pepper and Salt Skipper. A butterfly park in Texas
is in the money-raising stage. The association promotes butterfly gardens
to attract and support butterfly populations and conservation of butterfly
And then there's the golf initiative.
"I'm not the world's quietest person," he says, laughing. "So birders are
always slapping me around to be quiet. But butterflies don't hear."
Therefore, he says, you can talk as much as you like while butterflying,
which makes it the perfect corporate outing far better than golf. It's
useful for relaxation and team-building, fiercely competitive if you want
to keep track of what you've spotted, and yet, compatible with heated
discussions of strategic planning and hostile takeovers.
Dr. Glassberg may be joking on this one, but then, maybe not. "I think
eventually America will grow up," he says, "and give up golf for butterflying."
If you live in the East, the guide to begin with if you start butterflying is
"Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East," by Jeffrey Glassberg
(Oxford University Press), one of a series.
The books contain photographs and descriptions of butterflies with
suggested locations, and recommendations on what sort of binoculars
to use, suggesting ones that will focus as close as six feet.
It's a lot easier to start with a group. The Web site of the North American
Butterfly Association www.naba.org has a list of chapters, links to
other butterfly groups, information on binoculars, sightings, butterfly
gardening and a national butterfly count in July.
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