REVIEWS: A World of Butterflies

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2004:

A World of Butterflies
by Brian Cassie, with photos by Kjell Sandved
and extended preface by Robert Michael Pyle
Bulfinch Press (c/o Times Warner Book Group,
1275 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020), 2004.
420 pages, hardcover. $22.50.

A World of Butterflies is an odd hybrid of field guide and
coffee table book, pocket-sized and consisting chiefly of
illustrations, but having the feel of being something to be paged
through indoors, not a quick reference to be packed along on hikes.
It comes with a dust-jacket, sure to be shredded on any field
expedition, and locating any particular butterfly seen on the wing
without already knowing the name of it will be slow going, since the
specimens are not grouped in any manner lending itself to quick
The girdled silk moth and the giant silk moth appear next to
each other, for example, with some superficial logic, but since
they live on different continents and look nothing alike, there is
little risk of them being confused in observation. What they have
most in common is frequently meeting their demise in boiling water,
the most common method of separating their silken cocoons from the
insect larvae within. Waiting until the larvae have hatched and left
is perfectly possible, but few producers exercise that much
patience, because few buyers insist that they must.

Ahimsa Peace Silk

Rayon and nylon so thoroughly extirpated insect silk from the
U.S. market half a century ago that silk today claims less than 2.5%
of the total U.S. market for imported natural fibres. But silk is
still among the most commonly used fibres in Asia, and the treatment
of silk worms is accordingly a moral concern for Jains, Brahmin
Hindus, and strict Buddhists, among others, as well as for secular
vegans and other animal advocates who extend practicing ahimsa to
“For the last two years People for Animals has been
developing Ahimsa Peace Silk for people who want to wear silk but
won’t because of the cruelty involved,” People for Animals founder
Maneka Gandhi wrote to ANIMAL PEOPLE just two days after A World of
Butterflies arrived. “We have finally developed it and have a
wonderful product range. Now I need people to buy the products!”
The product list is at <>.
“We are looking for people not to buy one piece at a time,”
Mrs. Gandhi continued, “as this becomes very expensive for us to
ship, but for people who run boutiques etc., who would like to buy
it for resale.
“The purpose of the exercise was not just to develop the
silk,” Mrs. Gandhi said, “but also to turn it into a viable
business, so that my 21 animal hospitals can get their own source of


A World of Butterflies, like most field guides and most
coffee table books, omits any discussion of either humane or
ecological issues. In part this may be because the potential buyers
include butterfly collectors, whose often illegal depredations have
driven so many rare species to the verge of extinction that
entomologists today zealously guard knowledge of the specific sites
where remnant populations may persist. Some butterfly species may
have been hunted to death, though this is uncertain because in
recent years many species formerly believed to have been extinct have
turned up in other locations, especially in the British Isles and
Japan, the global hubs of butterfly collecting.
The absence of even a few words of admonition about admiring
butterflies alive rather than killing them would severely disappoint
several ANIMAL PEOPLE readers at the Kharkov pedagogical university
in the Ukraine. Ph.D. candidate Juri Boychuk and freshmen Darina
Tsupko and Viktoriya Shchelglova recently submitted a guest essay on
that subject.
“Entomological collections are part of the main cultural
heritage of the Ukraine,” they argued. “Nowadays these collections
need state protection,” lest the rare specimens be stolen and sold.
Boychuk, Tsupko, and Shchelglova urged that the existing
collections be much more thoroughly catalogued and registered, to
permit more efficient study and discourage theft.
Then they went on to recommend that if butterflies are to be
collected, only farmed specimens should be used. Their conclusion,
however, was that photography provides a nicer trophy for both the
hobby collector and most scientific purposes, better preserves the
colors of the animals, and should replace specimen-collecting in
almost all circumstances.
ANIMAL PEOPLE did not publish the essay because few of our
readers are ever likely to collect butterflies. We did, however,
accept the Bulfinch Press offer of a review copy of A World of
Butterflies in hopes of finding a revolution of conscience underway
among insect hobbyists since the era when sticking pins through
butterflies rather than computer-hacking was the most caricatured
pastime of science geeks.
Boychuk, Tsupko, and Shchelglova attested that something of
the sort is happening in Kharkov. Unfortunately, it does not seem
to be happening yet at the Times-Warner Book Group.

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