They are harmless and easy to approach, and their lives are in plain view at every stage: egg Sharman Apt Russell. Sharman Apt Russell again blends her lush voice and keen scientific eye in this marvelous book about butterflies.
An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect by Sharman Apt Russell
From Hindu mythology to Aztec sacrifices, butterflies have served as a metaphor for resurrection and transformation. Even during World War II, children in a Polish death camp scratched hundreds of butterflies onto the walls of their barracks. But as Russell points out in this rich and lyrical meditation, butterflies are above all objects of obsession.
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From the beastly horned caterpillar, whose blood helps it count time, to the peacock butterfly, with wings that hiss like a snake, Russell traces the butterflies through their life cycles, exploring the creatures' own obsessions with eating, mating, and migrating. In this way, she reveals the logic behind our endless fascination with butterflies as well as the driving passion of such legendary collectors as the tragic Eleanor Glanville, whose children declared her mad because of her compulsive butterfly collecting, and the brilliant Henry Walter Bates, whose collections from the Amazon in helped develop his theory of mimicry in nature.
I was looking for more information about the connection between humans and butterflies through folklore, art, literature, natural history and collecting. While those tidbits are sprinkled throughout the book, the majority of the work is following the life cycle of butterflies in great detail.
AN OBSESSION WITH BUTTERFLIES : Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect
However, both of the elements covered in the book are interesting including a history of Walter Rothschild and his obsession with not only butterflies, but much of the natural world. He was also an avid butterfly collector and left the British Museum his collection of over 2 million butterfly specimen. Before deciding to focus his career on literature he had a prolific career studying butterflies publishing over twenty scientific papers and discovering new species.
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All aspects of the natural history of butterflies are covered, with many specific examples such as the mating characteristics of the Monarch butterfly, the male of which Miriam Rothschild described as a thug as well as the decidedly less beautiful aspect of butterflies, those which mate with females before she has the chance to emerge from her cocoon. Also discussed is the ongoing battle of the sexes to the extent of influencing evolution. The book describes a fascinating story about their trip to the Amazon and the life of Bates while living there and his return to London.
We also learn about the different types of mimicry in butterflies and what role Bates played in defining them to the point that one is now known as Batesian mimicry.
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The museum currently has close to nine million prepared specimens and the author describes viewing the collection including part of the Rothschild collection. The sheer number and task of managing such a collection is hard to fathom.
There is also a well appreciated chapter on moths, the poor relative to the butterfly that constantly gets ignored. It would be nice to see moths get similar attention to butterflies in more books and websites because they serve an important ecological role as well as butterflies. They are however, fascinating, the largest moth, from South America has a one-foot wingspan.
Some resemble hummingbirds, bees and even cockroaches. There are two interesting topics covered, the first is how landowners are realizing the economic value of turning their land back into rain forest because of the high demand from visitors to tour such places to see butterflies and other wildlife.
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Also interesting is a look into the business of butterfly farming and ranching which raise butterflies to send everywhere from zoos to butterfly houses to natural history museums to individuals. I have found a couple of other books about butterflies and folklore, art or myth that I will have to track down to see if they offer more material about those topics.
For further information about butterflies read the following posts from The Metropolitan Field Guide or visit the links on the right hand side of this page Leave this field empty. Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.
Swifts are one of the few birds that can draw crowds like rock stars. Their roosting is one of the greatest migration wonders of the natural world and they often choose to share it with us in the urban world. Several species of swifts are well known to roost in chimneys, often where many people have a chance to watch them.
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