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.