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Why we still collect butterflies

Butterflies in Melbourne Museum. Photo: Meredith Foley.

Andrew Warren, Florida Museum of Natural History, Why we still collect butterflies, The Conversation, 11 June 2015

Who doesn’t love butterflies? While most people won’t think twice about destroying a wasp nest on the side of the house, spraying a swarm of ants in the driveway, or zapping pesky flies at an outdoor barbecue, few would intentionally kill a butterfly. Perhaps because of their beautiful colors and intricate patterns, or the grace of their flight, butterflies tend to get a lot more love than other types of insects.

As a caretaker of one of the world’s largest collections of preserved butterflies and moths, and as a very active field researcher, I spend a lot of time explaining why we still need to collect specimens. All these cases of dead butterflies contribute greatly to our understanding of their still-living brothers and sisters. Collections are vitally important – not only for documenting biodiversity, but also for conservation.

Documenting what’s out there

Museums are storehouses for information generated by everyone who studies the natural world. Natural history collections constitute the single largest source of information on Earth’s biological diversity. Most of what we know about what lives where and when is derived from museum collections, accumulated over the past two-and-a-half centuries.

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