17 January 2006

A dangerous activity: chasing butterflies


What is better to read in the dead of winter than a book on butterfly collecting? The author of the book Hazards of butterfly collecting is Torben B. Larsen, a well-known lepidopterist who has visited, lived and worked in dozens of countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia and southern America. And wherever he went he collected butterflies.

Hazards of Butterfly Collecting
is a delightful 250-page book of short accounts, rarely more than 3 pages long, of Larsen's butterflying adventures illustrated with many black and white photographs of people, places and, of course, butterflies. Larsen has had his share of hazards, including car accidents, guerillas with machine guns, an arsenic bottle that broke and cut his wife's hand (when they were more than 2 hours away from the nearest doctor), a case of snow-blindness (from counting butterflies for 12 h in the bright sun), a jump out of a helicopter that had just taken off (to catch a butterfly, of course), an almost fatal malaria attack (luckily he was in England at the time), drunk soldiers (with machine guns) who were convinced that Larsen was a murderous spy and a smelly tribesman who sneaked into Larsen's car and ate his sandwiches. As the authors also admits, however, the book's title is somewhat misleading since many stories are about collecting butterflies in reasonable safety, most have more or less happy endings and all leave you smiling. And the book is not only about field trips; there are many fascinating tidbits of butterfly natural history, ecology, evolution and biogeography with citations to the scientific literature.

My only criticism of the book is that it has many typos, usually in the form of missing or wrong words. Perhaps, the corrections were kept to a minimum to keep the cost down. Economics may also explain why the pictures are not in color, even though the captions sometimes refer to the butterflies' colors. Nevertheless, if you like butterflies, insects or otherwise doing field work in any branch of natural history, you are likely to enjoy reading this book. I hope Larsen will write at least another one.

The book was published in the United Kingdom in 2003. I don't know if it is available in the U.S. I got my copy last October from the Pemberley Books in the UK via their website.



I received this e-mail from Torben Larsen on 21 January 2006 and am posting it here with his permission.

Dear Aydin,

Thanks for the kind words about my little "Hazards" book. You have read the book as I intended it to be read! We are already 25 episodes further, so I might live to see a new instalment - in colour, I hope. I must have a look at the typos issue, though. I had a very good proofreader ... maybe something the computer did?

I spent some time at Carnegie on West African butterflies with John Rawlins ten years ago ... might be coming back,

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir
I am a friend of Torben Larsen. I was a little boy in Lebanon when he was doing the book : butterflies of lebanon. My name is Pierre ANHOURY, the son of Roland.

I am looking for Torben Larsen adress and email. please help me with this. I am now doing pictures of butterflies as a hobby.
My email adress is: pierre.anhoury@mattsonjack.com
my phone is: +33673169682
Please share with Torben these information. i lost his contact since 35 years.
Thank you very much