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John C. Pallister, lifelong student of insects, is internationally known as a lecturer and writer in the field. A research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, he has himself collected more than 100,000 lepidoptera.
The jewel-like creations pictured so vividly on the opposite and following pages are trophies in one of the most fascinating of all hunting sports. It is also one of the most misunderstood. Traditionally, the butterfly hunter is lampooned as a wild figure chasing his prey across open fields, his net brandished aloft and bottles, boxes and bags swinging in all directions from his person. But this is a caricature of reality. Seldom does a hunter beyond the age of 10 resort to such abandonment, for anyone who goes abroad in search of the curious and lovely creatures of the insect world knows that he must keep his wits about him if he is to succeed.
Many butterflies, for instance, can quite easily outdistance a running man. Guile and strategy are therefore essential, and speed at the proper moment—the speed and coordination of a fine tennis player. The skill of a hunter is taxed to its extreme in capturing a Morpho butterfly. On the instant that the net swings on one of these iridescent blue beauties, the Morpho seems to vanish. Whether it ducked under, whether it rose skyward, whether it turned back on the trail—the hunter may never know; all he does know is that his net is empty.
Insect hunters are for the most part unlicensed, although a few tropical countries are now trying to prevent the extinction of their larger and more beautiful species by various laws and regulations. Hence it is impossible to judge the number of persons who pursue this sport. But they can be sorted into several categories. There is the professional collector interested in the commercial possibilities of his catch. Then there is the scientific collector, often on the entomological staff of a museum or university, who is likely to spend six weeks to a year collecting specimens of every insect species he can find. The private collector is usually interested in only one group of insects, a particular family of butterflies or of beetles or, as in the case of the late Baron Rothschild, of fleas. Finally, there is the amateur collector, the boy or girl with a collecting instinct, an interest in the insect world and a little opportunity. Sometimes these amateurs continue their interest after they have grown up and, without the expenditure of much time or money, provide themselves with a lifelong and continuously engrossing hobby.
The cost of insect collecting, outside of travel to distant countries, can be very low indeed. A net, a wire ring to hold it and a handle with which to swing it can be purchased quite cheaply from any entomological supply house. With a killing jar, a few boxes, paper for holding captures, a hand lens and a few other odds and ends, the hunter is ready for the chase.
But the net is not the hunter's only weapon. Some use a .22 caliber revolver with bird-shot cartridges to bring down large speedy dragonflies, Morphos and other difficult insects. Bird shot, however, is almost certain to damage the wings. I have found that if I replaced the bullets with fine sand I could so confuse the insect that I could then run up and sweep it into my net.
Perhaps the greatest thrill is hunting insects at night. The best place is an open wooded area; the best weather, warm and muggy. Either or both of two collecting methods can be used. Set out a light and let the insects come to you, or go into the woods sugaring for them. A thick mixture of brown sugar, molasses and stale beer is the bait, applied by day in attractive spots. After dark, armed with flashlight and net, the hunter makes his rounds. Surprises are sure to await him—surprises and rewards.
LOLA GIANT SILKWORM MOTH
BROOKIANA BIRDWING BUTTERFLY