This is a hefty book. It chronicles the motley band of butterfly collectors in Britain and how they catalogued species and unravelled mysteries. The passion for butterflies contributed to the development of natural history, at a time of rapid change and expansion. Lepidopterists came from all parts of society.
Full of entertaining stories, this book describes Percy Bright, Mayor of Bournemouth, who would turn up to collecting sites in his Rolls Royce and wave his cheque book at those with promising catches. Lord Walter Rothschild, a prolific collector, also broke in zebras and used them to pull his traps (instead of ponies). Much attention was paid to Will-o'-the-wisp and there were disputes in collecting circles about the possibility of it arising from bioluminescence. I was curious to read about the exploits of Henry Doubleday, cousin of the other Henry Doubleday (one of the founders of the organic gardening movement), who amassed a collection that ended up in the Bethnal Green museum.
In response to modern criticism of the destruction of so many insects, the editor notes that the collectors provided a valuable record, detailing what exists (and what was lost). Current moves to increase nesting sites for birds have led to a drop in butterfly populations, as birds feed on eggs, caterpillars and pupae.