AZ's Lepidoptera

AZ's Lepidoptera Home | AZ's group at ETHZ

If you are concerned about the environmental damage cause by my collecting, please reconsider. I am more worried about butterfly conservation that you probably are. Yet, it is well established that amateur non-commercial collecting has zero impact of butterfly populations.


A single insectivore bird will kill hundreds of butterflies a week.

A single Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) will typically kill 100 moths in a single night.

Consider this: in my lifetime I will capture fewer butterflies than an insectivore bird will in a single season! I will capture fewer moths than a bat or a mercury vapor street light will kill in a single week! Butterflies have evolved to withstand enormous predation pressure, far beyond what amateur collecting can possibly create.

Beetles, spiders, parasitic wasps and birds will kill over 80% of all caterpillars.

A deranged physicist will collect fewer than 200 specimens a year. In doing so, he will travel to remote areas, supporting local communities, like during this trip to Cameroon.

Butterflies are very vulnerable, but in a totally different way. The real and terrible danger to Lepidoptera is habitat destruction and loss of caterpillar food plant. I take only a few specimens of every species. Development kills butterflies by the billion, indiscriminately, and leaves them no chance to regenerate. Even bening activities can have disasterous consequences. For example, what is killing the beautiful Richmond Birdwing in Australia is a popular imported garden plant (Dutchman's pipe vine).

Deforestation of Borneo due to oil palm plantations. The oil palm is perhaps the greatest enemy of tropical butterflies today. Even reforestation efforts may be misguided. In Madagascar they are trying to "regenerate" the forests by planting toxic and water-table-draining imported gum trees: the worst invasive species they could possibly import!

A satellite image of cumulative bush fires in Africa over one year. Each time, all butterflies, caterpillars and eggs in these areas are wiped out. Cattle grazing the alpine meadows in idyllic Switzerland does similar damage, to the even more vulnerable high-elevation species.

Unfortunately, conservation efforts are often misguided. Strict  international laws often protect certain adult butterflies (you will not see any of those on my pages!), while the habitats that are vital to their survival are left unprotected! For a few species, specimen trade is entirely prohibited, while much more good would have come of encouraging their farming and responsible collecting with the involvement of local communities.  A few countries entirely forbid collecting altogether, even outside national parks and even on private property. Ironically, these are often the very countries where a mismanagement of natural resources has already caused a natural catastrophe. The same governments that forbid collecting, are often happy to yield to the pressure of agricultural multinationals, allowing the conversion of forests to farmland. The hipocricy is apalling. On a more petty scale, some of my bids to obtain legal collecting permints in certain developing countries did not go very far without additional "greasing". But with enough "grease" one can often get a permit to collect and export almost anything...

You can compare my hobby to angling. Surely fishing, if done responsibly by a few enthusiasts who knows what thay are doing,  can be an excellent hobby that does not harm the environment and even benefits it? Well, butterflies have far shorter life cycles (faster regeneration rate) than fish. Moreover, unlike an angler who is always happy to catch more of the same fish,  a collector limits himself to just a few select specimens of each variety. Again: I never sell or trade any of the specimens I collect! Butterfly collecting, if done right, can also be an environmentally sound hobby. 

The final argument concerns the purpose of my collecting. What is going to happen to it when I am gone? Well, my University, ETHZ, actually has a sizable insect collection (butterflies included). It is primarily based on private contributions. Eventually, I plan to hand my entire collection over the School. I am not an owner of  my specimens, I am a temporary custodian.

Please leave the deranged physics professror with a butterfly net in peace. He is not doing any damage.  Consider instead limiting deforestation, grazing of alpine meadows, corn farming, slash-and-burn agriculture, swamp development, air pollution, climate change, etc. And think of me the next time you will be scraping dead insects off the windshield of your car...