What is a lepidopterist?

Patrick Foley patfoley at csus.edu
Sun Jan 27 12:28:17 EST 2002

Dear Lepidopterists,

Scientific research on lepidoptera goes well beyond (though it relies on)
taxonomy. Population biology, community ecology, behavior, physiological ecology
and more may make only occasional use of nets.

And about lep behavior versus hymenoptera:
Many lepidoptera have caterpillars with interesting cooperative defenses. (You may
prefer to take voucher specimens with forceps rather than a net, and preserve them
in alcohol rather than a box.) The trade offs between sexual selection (for mates)
and cryptic coloration or mimicry lead to fascinating sexual dimorphisms. These
could lead to more accurate measurements of the strength of sexual selection than
most insect afford. Lots of research on sexual selection in lepidoptera remains to
be done.

Flowering plants show a great deal of coevolution with pollinating Lepidoptera.
(This is beautifully illustrated in Grant and Grant's 1965 Flower Pollination in
the Phlox Family.) It is almost surprising how much floral evolution has gone
towards Lepidoptera considering the availability of well coadapted bees.

Watching female butterflies find host plants and choose oviposition sites is the
fun part of the study of chemical coevolution of plants and leps. And if
host-plant ecology seems like a finished thing, an old-fashioned affair or best
left to the chemists, take a look at DeVries 1997, The Butterflies of Costa Rica
Vol II Riodinidae. Only about 20% of the host plants are known. In better studied
places, the opportunities to study host plant expansion (the work of Singer is
salient), with its deep implications for the past evolution of Lepidoptera, are
still immense.

This is not to diminish the importance of geographically accurate phylogenetic
systematics, which is foundational. Simply to remember that there is a lot to the
life, not just the death of butterflies.

And to recall that the essence of being a Lepidopterist is not the study of
Jeffrey Glassberg's maculations, but of Lepidoptera.

Patrick Foley
patfoley at csus.edu

Stan Gorodenski wrote:

> Yes, I agree.  The net doesn't have anything to do with it.  I remember
> some research done by a now deceased entomologist, Mont. A. Cazier,
> which consisted of watching wasps (e.g., "Territorial Behaviour among
> Males of Protaxaea gloriosa).  In theory, such kinds of things could be
> done with lepidoptera, but it seems to me that lepidopteran behaviour is
> of a more simpler order compared to Hymenopterans, or maybe the
> behaviour would be more difficult to observe (whatever it may be).
> Also, I imagine one could do systematics solely on museum collections,
> without having to swing a net themselves.
> Stan
> Mark Walker wrote:
> >
> > Here's my answer to Rudy's question:
> >
> > "A lepidopterist is anyone who takes a scientific interest in Butterflies
> > and Moths, and spends more than 20% of their time doing so."
> >
> > I don't think the net has anything to do with it.  I would, to the dismay of
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