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<h2 > In every way unblemished by vulgarity </h2>

<p> Naturalists of old  associated the genus Agrias with nobility: </p>

<p>Paul Hahnel (1890):<br>
<i>'..[Agrias are] not exceeded in beauty by any other butterfly. For although some Indian Ornithoptera and the Morphids flying on the Amazon surpass it in the development of single attributes, such as size and splendour of colours, they do not come up to its abundant and most thoroughly accomplished markings of the under surface expressing the Nymphalid-type the most perfectly... But above all other excellencies it is adorned by the noble descent, belonging to a genus being in every way unblemished by vulgarity, the species of which are rarities to such an extent that none of the existing large collections is able to boast of possessing all of them in completion.' </i></p>

<p>Hans Fruhstorfer (1907):<br>
<i>'...[Agrias is a] magnificent tropical genus, upon which nature seems to have showered all her abundance of most brilliant colors, and which is, therefore, justly called `the princely race` of the Nymphalidae.'</i></p>

<p>Their appearance may indeed be seen as noble. Here are three specimens from the upper-Amazon rain forest around Iquitos in Peru: Agrias amydon amydonius, Agrias hewitsonii beata, and Agrias claudina lugens. Each butterfly is shown from the recto and verso sides.</p>

<p>The behavior of Agrias is anything BUT noble. Adults feed on “juices” from decaying carrion and animal feces. The three particular butterflies were captured using cow blood for bait. Agrias of the Guianas are somewhat less disgusting and don't come to such filth. There I have had much more luck with rotting bananas. I have not yet heard any theories explaining this geographic variation of behavior.</p>

<p>Collecting in Peru is legal if you have a local guide. I did, an Amerindian fellow from Iquitos. </p> <h2> Ask your mother-in-law </h2>

<p> The key to appreciating this to-scale photo is realizing that the large moth in the center (<i>Epiphora ploetzi</i>) has a 20cm maximum wing span, while the little guy to the left of it (an <i>Orthogonioptilum</i> species that I can't identify) is about as large as the largest European butterflies. To the right of it are two more giant silkworms (family <i>Saturniidae</i>): <i>Nudaurelia lopia</i> (top) and <i>Imbrasia obscura</i> (bottom). All giant silkworms pupate in silk cocoons, hence the name. Adults have atrophied tongues: they don't feed and are very short-lived. The weird moth on the left ( <i>Dactyloceros lucina</i>) is from the tiny family <i>Brahmeidae</i>, which is closely related but distinguished by fully developed feeding organs. This photo may prompt a discussion of the Darwinian origin of moth's wing patterns and shapes, but I shall recuse myself..</p>
<p> In order to catch these insects, proceed as follows. On a moonless (important!) night hang up a 4m x 3m white sheet (have your mother-in-law help you make one) between two trees in a forest clearing in the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon, right across from the tent you sleep in. Shine some LED floodlights on the sheet: 20W cool-white and 10W near UV light (the best spectral composition is a matter of religious debate and probably utterly unimportant). A large car battery will last a whole week powering these. Through the night, set up the alarm to wake you up every 90 min or so. Each time, get out of the tent and pick up the moths sitting on the sheet, all Dazed and Confused. No collecting net needed.</p>

<p> Collecting in Cameroon is legal with a permit. One can be obtained at the Ministry of Agriculture but is comically expensive. There is a good reason for that. The president of the country (democratically elected back in 1982) happens to reside in Geneva with his family. The cost of living in Geneva is very high, I hear. </p> <h2> Past the point of efficiency </h2>
<p> <i>Kallima inachus</i>. Netted on the fly in Shan State, Burma.</p>
<p>In his 'Organic Evolution' (1917) Richard Swan Lull claims that<br>
<i>'... that masterpiece of mimicry Kallima goes too far, as a much less perfect imitation [of a dried leaf] would be ample for all practical purposes and we cannot conceive of selection taking an adaptation past the point of efficiency.'</i> Neither can I.</p>
<p>Collecting outside national parks is legal in neighboring Thailand. Not sure about Burma. But nobody seems to care. As long as you are Rohinja, at least.</p> <h2> Complex mimicry complex </h2>

<p> All these butterflies are from the same location, near Ubatuba in Brazil, on the coast, South of Rio.
They are all from different species and most are not even related! The first row are heliconids, distant relatives of
the fritillaries of the Northern Hemisphere:  <i>Heliconius numata</i>, <i>Heliconius ethilla</i> and <i>Euides isabella</i>.
The second row are all ithominids, distantly related to the monarch butterfly: <i>Mechanitis polymnia</i>,
<i>Mechanitis lycimnia</i> and  <i>Placidula euryanassa</i>. Note that the <i>Heliconius</i> and <i>Mechanitis</i>
have an even closer species-to-species correspondence. The third row is a mixed bag: a close relative of our
checkerspot butterflies <i>Eresia eunice</i>, another ithominid, <i>Hypothyris ninonia</i>, and a relative of (!)
the cabbage white, <i>Dismorphia amphione</i>. They all look similar, being members of one of the famous <i>Heliconius</i>
mimicry complexes. The heliconids and ithominids are Mullerian mimics, which means they are all poisonous or
distasteful to predators, but share the same bright colors to warn and avoid confusing them.
The other two butterflies are edible to birds, but protect themselves by masquerading as poisonous species.
In another location, the same species may look quite different, but all mimics from  one area will still resemble one another.</p> <H2> Republic of China </h2>

<p>You can stand below Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world, hop into a car, and in 30-45 minutes you are alone in an excellent tropical forest.  <i>Papilio bianor thrasymedes</i> (left) is the Formosan subspecies of what in Russia was referred to as 'Maak's machaon', the most desirable butterfly occurring in what used to be the Soviet Union and the subject of my childhood dreams.  On the right is <i>Papilio hermosanus</i>, a true Formosan endemic.</p>

<p>Collecting in Taiwan is completely legal outside national parks.</p> <h2>Consequences not so Dire</h2>

<p>The French. They wouldn't let me into French Guiana due to the COVID lockdown. I didn't have any of the required paperwork. My ATTESTATION DE DÉPLACEMENT DÉROGATOIRE DE FRANCE MÉTROPOLITAINE VERS UNE COLLECTIVITÉ D’OUTRE MER was worth squat, despite the impressive name of the document. Some very earnest-looking gendarmes (or whoever they were) held me at the Orly airport. Much as they respect my motives, Monsieur le Président announced the mesures extraordinaires and la loi is la loi, after all, and applies equally to all (égalité, fraternité mais pas de liberté). I was looking at being taken off the plane and having to drive 700 km back to Zurich. Yes, I got up at 2AM that day and drove 700 km to Orly because The French cancelled most trains to Paris. I had nothing to lose. I let myself go. I gave them the most inspired speech that my broken French could deliver. I am traveling to FG in order to Study Moths and to Witness The Dire Consequence of Climate Change (all factually accurate). It took me an hour to convince them, but in the end they let me fly!</p>

<p>In FG I discovered that the Consequences are Dire indeed. Climate change or not, the dry season ended earlier than it usually does. Half of my butterfly collecting days got rained out. The Consequences were not all Dire though. Moth collecting only benefited! Light traps actually work best on cloudy muggy nights. In a drizzle they work best.</p>

<p>Of dozens and dozens, here are a select few silkworms. Left: <i>Arsenura scylla</i>. Center: <i>Therynia buckleyi</i>. Right: <i>Copiopteryx semiramis</i>. For scale, the latter is 24 cm from tip of forewing to tip of opposite spur. The little <i>Therynia</i> is about the size of one of the larger European butterflies.</p>

<p>It is legal to collect 1000 insects per person per year in FG. There are two giants beetle species of which it is allowed to catch only one a year, but there are no restrictions on butterflies or moths. A Département with 95% of its primary rain forest intact doesn't need any.</p> <h2>Fly Air France</h2>

<p>I know of four ways to catch a <i>Morpho</i>.</p>

<p>If you are very very quick, you can net one on the fly. They are not very fast fliers, but the large wing area and the small body mass make them very maneuverable. Their turn radius or stopping distance are a fraction of their wing span. Snatching one out of thin air is very hard. A <i>Morpho</i> flying in the twilight of the rain forest is just random flashes of blue lightning. In-between those flashes the butterfly seems to disappear due to the dark camouflage on the wing underside. I have been swinging the net for 45 years, and my chances are worse than 10% per encounter. Still, sometimes it does work and this is how <i>M. menelaus occidentalis</i>, male  (bottom center) was taken in Peru.</p>

<p>If you are very lucky, you can find one perching on a tree late in the afternoon or early in the morning. If your net is long enough to reach it, you have a decent chance of catching it. That's how I got <i>M. deidamia deidamia</i>, French Guiana (top left) and <i>M. achilles phokylides</i>, Peru (bottom right).</p>

<p>If you are patient, you can catch a <i>Morpho</i> in a sweet bait trap. Those should be hung low, half a meter above ground. You won't have to wait too long. A lucky trap will bring a <i>Morpho</i> a day or more on average. Problem is, only a few <i>Morpho</i> species will enter a trap. These will: <i>M. menelaus menelaus</i>, female, French Guiana (bottom left) and <i>M. helenor theodorus</i>, Peru (top right).</p>

<p>If you want to have the most fun one can possibly have hunting a butterfly, use the fourth method. You need a shiny metallic-blue banner of a hue that exactly matches that of the butterfly. You will need different banners to catch different species.  Males patrol their territories. As soon as you see one, start waving the banner vigorously. He will take it for an intruder and ATTACK head on, flying straight into it. That's when you snatch him with the net that you are holding in your other hand! If you miss, no worries. Often the male will get so worked up, that he will come in for a repeat strike again and again. That's how I netted <i>M. rhetenor rhetenor</i> in French Guiana (top center).  They say that the lunch wrap foil at Air France is just the right color for <i>M. eugenia.</i> I flew Air Caraibes...</p>

<p>These butterflies are 12-15 cm in maximum wing span.</p> <h2>Small animal of love</h2>

<p>One of South America's treasures, best described by Adalbert Seitz in 1916:</p>

<p><i>'The butterflies mostly rest near the water on the under surface of leaves, are easily knocked off, fly,
however, very lazily and soon settle down again, so that they are easily taken. The children of the natives are
sometimes seen playing with them, and the Indians have given them a special name signifying as much as
'small animals of love', a peculiar correspondence of denomination with Linnaeus who named the first </i>Helicopis<i>
known '</i>cupido<i>'. The butterflies are local, but common at their flying-places; only in the confines, as for instance
South Brazil, they grow rare.'</i></p> <h2>The things I do for entomolgy</h2>

<p>Cameroon is a big country. Bigger than France. Collecting there in remote areas where the villages have no electricity or running water presents certain... unexpected challenges. What is said below is all true.</p>

<p>The village elders were at first very skeptical of my activities. It Is Known that even touching a butterfly causes sickness. Only a crazy person could hunt them just for the sake of it. Surely this deranged foreigner must be restrained for his own good! It was my guide who found a solution. He told the elders (all in Bantu) that I am willing to risk my life for butterflies because en France they fetch huge sums of money. This was something the locals were completely ready to accept. I saw a new respect in their attitude. The Hunter is willing to Risk His Life for Profit.</p>

<p>The second problem is that the people you are staying with are very hospitable and attempt to feed their guest.  That's great unless they want to feed him bush meat that often happens to be grilled monkey. They get completely confused and even offended if he politely declines. My guide was aware of the strange ways of Europeans who won't eat monkey, so he would usually help resolve the situation. But he did tell me a horror story. He once had a customer from California. Can you imagine?! That guy refused to eat meat of ANY KIND!</p>

<p>You think cow blood for Agrias is disgusting? The ONLY bait that seems to work well in traps in Africa is rotting and often maggot-infested  entrails. On the last expedition I had the local hunters bring me a heap of entrails from a wild pig they caught in a snare (colleagues...). I was quite happy until I realized that I only have the blade of my tiny Swiss army knife to cut them. They were already 3 days old and pretty ripe in the 35 degree heat. The things I do for entomolgy...</p>

<p>Other complications I dare not mention on-line.</p>

<p>The reason I was willing to endure all this has a name: <i>Charaxes</i>.  Half a dozen bait traps in just one area in the the Dja Faunal Reserve in just one week brought me over  20 species. On sunny days each trap would capture up to two dozen individuals that had to be set free. Most would return to the same trap the next day.</p>

<p>All the butterflies shown  here are males. Row by row: <i>Ch. smaragdalis</i>, <i>Ch. cynthia cameroonensis</i>, <i>Ch. nobilis</i>, <i>Ch. protoclea protonothodes</i>, <i>Ch. castor</i> and  <i>Ch. ameliae</i>.</p> <h2> Charaxes/Verso </h2>
<p>Seen from the underside: <i>Polyura pyrrhus gilolensis</i> from Morotai, Maluku Utara, Indonesia and <i>Charaxes brutus angustus</i> from Cameroon.  The genus <i>Charaxes</i> is a polyphyly and contains the genus <i>Polyura</i> inside itself.</p> <h2> They must surely be aware </h2>
<p>No, the butterfly in the middle is not a 'hybrid' of the other two, neither is this a Photoshop trick.  These are three closely related but distinct species from the Peruvian Amazon:  <i>Nessaea hewitsonii</i>, <i>N. obrinus</i> and <i>Catonephele numilia</i>, each about 6cm in wing span.</p>

<p>About a year after composing this triptych and writing the caption above, I accidentally came across the paper 'On collecting and habits of the most important butterflies of the Amazon Basin'  by Otto Michael published in 1894 in the entomological journal 'Iris' vol. 7, pp. 193-237. A paragraph on page 216 reads (my translation from German):</p>

<p><i>'</i>Obrinus<i> romps in sunny spots in the forest; taking a break from his wild swift flight, he settles down with folded wings on a leaf illuminated by a ray of sunshine. Soon enough he slowly opens his wings and reveals their gorgeous, bright colors. The deep black, sky-blue and orange pattern draws stark contrast with the pale green of the underside. This butterfly is a common occurrence in these woods; very similar to him in color, size and shape is the rare </i>Hewitsonii<i>, the only difference being that the orange patches on the hind wings are replaced by sky-blue markings on the outer rims. The females of these species are similar in all but the smallest details. The magnificent </i>Numilia<i> is more conspicuous; it too spreads its wings when basking in the sun and shows off the orange spots on a velvet black background of the wing upper side, perhaps because  the underside is of a yellow-brown color and too modest to impress with. Hiding from sight obviously goes against the nature of this butterfly genus, since they must surely be aware of the disruption that their dazzling appearance wreaks on the green monotony of the forest; along with the </i>Heliconius<i>, they are the forest's living flowers.'</i></p>

<p>Darn.  I was born a century too late.</p> <h2> Rattlebirds and shyer animals </h2>

<p>The four butterflies in the corners are <i>Hamadryas velutina</i> (male) and <i>H. arinome</i>, from French Guiana, left, and <i>H. belabonna</i>  and <i>H. velutina</i> (female), from Peru, right.  In English they are referred to as 'crackers'. Paul Hahnel explained it best in 1890 in 'Entomological memoires of South America' (my translation):</p>

<p><i>'On the gray trunk, where long processions of soldier ants flow up and down, appears an animal... We approach to get a better view. It sits there with its head pointing down, wings spread out flat against the tree. We try to scare it off, but it won't be disturbed by our movements and remains sitting there high up, unconcerned. But then another animal of its own species flies in on the scene, and in no time the two of them are dashing wildly through the air and strangely enough producing a loud 'tetteret tet tet!' crackling chatter. We can't resists bestowing upon this Ageronia [Hamadryas], in recognition of this remarkable peculiarity, a special name. In our 'hunter's Latin' it shall henceforth only be know as 'Klappervogel' [Rattlebird], as it it apparently has adopted the nice and to the point motto 'Rattling is part of the trade!'. '</i></p>

<p> The creature in the center is a close relative, <i>Panacea procilla bleuzeni</i>. Its behavior is best captured by Otto Michael (1894):</p>

<p><i> 'Our attention is drawn to other animals, very similar to the <i>Ageronia</i> [=<i>Hamadryas</i>], but occurring only on the upper [Amazon] river. [The species pictured here is from French Guiana, but was only described in 1986. It must have been unknown to Michael.] ... They settle down not unlike the <i>Ageronias</i> with wings flat against the tree trunk, where they are visible already from afar. These animals are extremely shy; once startled, they retreat... until the disturbance is over, before returning to the same spot again. Occasionally the creatures can bee seen sitting on leaves, sometimes even with folded wings, contrary to their usual habit.' </i></p>
<p>The <i>Panacea</i> is 9cm in maximal wing span.</p> <h2>Les Fantômas </h2>

<p> Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent at sunset, next to a bed of phlox or some other long-throated flowers. Once a certain threshold level of darkness is reached they suddenly appear. Grey phantoms. Out of nowhere. If you shine a flashlight at one you will see a pair of huge spherical eyes glowing pink. The wings beat too fast to be visible. It hovers in front of a flower and sticks its long proboscis in to seep the nectar. This lasts only a split second. Suddenly it shifts. Instantly, as if by teleportation, to the next blossom. While at it, it is not too difficult to net. However, the spectacle only lasts 20 minutes or so, and then the phantoms vanish into the dark of the night. They are of the family Sphingidae, but I mentally referred to them by the name of my favorite TV-show villain. Later I learned that these insects are much easier collected in light traps. Something precious was lost when I did. </p>

<p>Five very different ones: <i>Amphonyx walkeri</i> and <i>Adhemarius palmeri</i> (French Guiana), <i>Eumorpha vitis</i> (Peru), <i>Euchloron megaera</i> (Cameroon) and <i>Pergessa porcellus</i> (Kanton Aargau, Switzerland).</p>

<p>The <i>Pergessa</i> was collected the old fashioned way, by swinging the net at dusk in a wildflower field near our house.</p>

<p> The <i>Amphonyx</i> has the longest proboscis of all insects in the world. When not in use, it is neatly rolled up into a flat spiral like a clock spring. There are several orchid species that have very long nectar tubes and are excursively pollinated by these creatures. For scale: this specimen is exactly a foot (30.5 cm) long, tip of abdomen to tip of proboscis.</p>

<p>The <i>Adhamarius</i> is of the subfamily <i>Smerinthiinae</i>. These have no proboscis at all and don't feed as adults.</p> <h2>Un pur lapsus calami</h2>

<p>I felt that the color palette of this slide show was lacking in the ochre department. Here are some <i>Cymothoe</i> from Cameroon to compensate: <i>C. hypatha</i>, <i>C. hyarbita</i> and <i>C. fumana.</i> Maximal wing span is 9-10 cm.</p>

<i>Cymothoe</i> are among many genera (incl. <i>Dynamine</i>, <i>Nessaea</i>, <i>Dione</i>, etc.) named after Nereids.  You would think that there are more than enough of those to choose from. But insect naming  is no laughing matter. '<i>Cymothoe</i>' has caused enough controversy. It had nothing to do with biology or Greek mythology . Hemming (1967) writes (read only as far as it takes to appreciate the absurdity of this 'scientific' discourse):</p>

<p>'Scudder (1875, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts Sci., Boston 10 : 152) abstained from selecting a type-species for this genus because he considered it to be invalid as a junior homonym of <i>Cymothoa</i> Fabricius, 1793 (Ent. syst. 2 : 503), a genus of <i>Crustacea</i>. What should be taken as constituting a state of homonymy between two generic names was a matter of debate long after Scudder's time, not being finally settled until 1953 when the Copenhagen Congress decided that a single-letter difference in spelling was to be taken as preventing any two generic names from being treated as homonyms of one another ; this decision now appears in the revised Code as Article 56 (a). At this point it is necessary however to refer to the alleged name <i>Cymothoe</i> Rafinesque, 1814 (Précis Découv. Somiol. : 26), a variant of <i>Cymothoa</i> Fabricius, 1793. Under the Code <i>Cymothoe</i> Rafinesque, if a deliberate emendation, would have status in nomenclature and would invalidate <i>Cymothoe</i> Hübner under the Law of Homonymy, but, if it was only an Incorrect Subsequent Spelling of the Fabrician name <i>Cymothoa</i>, it would possess no such status and would not adversely affect the name <i>Cymothoe</i> Hübner. This question has been examined in detail by Berger (1952, Lambillionea 52 : 65-67) who after setting out his reasons, concluded that the spelling used by Rafinesque was 'un pur lapsus calami de <i>Cymothoa</i> Fab.' From Berger's investigation it may be concluded that the spelling 'Cymothoe' used by Rafinesque in 1814 was, in the words of the Code only an Incorrect Subsequent Spelling of the name Cymothoa Fabricius and, as such, possesses no status in nomenclature and accordingly does not invalidate the later name <i>Cymothoe</i> Hübner.'</p>

<p>I am glad that Almighty Code abstained, in the end,  from invalidating these  butterflies: hunting them in the African jungle was a blast.</p> 
<h2>A feature in the physiognomy of the forest</h2>

<p><i>Heliconius clysonymus</i> (Colombia), <i>H. xantocles</i> (Guyana),  <i>H. charitonia</i> (Cuba), <i>H. erato phyllis</i>  (Brazil) and <i>H. erato hydra</i> (French Guiana).<p>

<p>Henry Walter Bates wrote the following in his 1863 book 'The Naturalist on the River Amazons':</p>

<p><i>'Amongst the lower trees and bushes numerouskinds of <i>Heliconii</i>, a group of butterflies peculiar to tropical America, having long narrow wings, were very abundant. The prevailing ground colour of the wings of these insects is a deep black, and on this are depicted spots and streaks of crimson, white, and bright yellow, in different patterns according to the species. Their elegant shape, showy colours, and slow, sailing mode of flight, make them very attractive objects, and their numbers are so great that they form quite a feature in the physiognomy of the forest, compensating for the scarcity of flowers.'</i></p>