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Butterflies in Tribute to Darwin and Lincoln

On their birthday, a plea for biological diversity and human civility

February 12, 2020  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  35 comments  | 

On this day 211 years ago, February 12, 1809, two men were born into a world they would go on to change in profound ways: Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.

At a time of such extreme political divisiveness here in the U.S., our new Civil War, and with two conservationists apparently murdered over Monarch butterflies in Mexico this month, it might seem ill-timed to celebrate Darwin and Lincoln today. After all, two of their most cherished ideals remain imperiled: biological diversity and human civility.

There is much to be said about this, of course, which I plan to do in an upcoming essay. Instead, on this day, well, I’m signing off for a while to chase some of that biodiversity along the Rio Grande. So I will leave you instead with additional butterflies from the McGuire Center of Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, where I was on an expedition to retrieve Vermont and Maine specimen data. During those adventures, however, I could not help but wander farther afield among millions of specimens: on the left below you will see various Nymphalidae (brushfoot) species from the New World tropics, and on the right, Speyeria species, greater fritillaries, from here in the temperate zone.

Arranged in large part to look pretty, rather than specifically for scientists to peruse, these butterflies are, at least for me, an expression of art, adventure, intellect, diversity and reverence — maybe even civility. And we all could use more of that stuff these days — in symbolism and in life. Click either image to see the full drawer.

  1. Kay Johnson says:

    I too listened to the podcast on Delight from This American Life. No doubt the vision, words, and insights of Bryan bring us all delight. The butterfly drawers are fabulous. I strain to recognize more than a monarch and this is inspiration to learn more as the warm season approaches in Vermont.

  2. Clark Moseley says:

    Thanks for sharing your insights to your friends through your written words and your ability to capture photos of beautiful beings!

  3. Diane says:

    Thank you, thank you and thank you….

  4. Leda Beth Gray says:

    Wow! I either didn’t know or forgot this fact about Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Displays of dead butterflies make me sad though. I understand needing to kill and study some them but don’t like the idea of collections for beauty, enjoyment or fun. It is a side of humans that I don’t understand.

    I did know about the deaths of the monarch activists/protectors and am very worried for monarch butterflies. Our milkweed garden here in Maine has been very successful since we started it three years ago– we figure we had upwards of seventy five butterflies emerge in our yard! We plan to add more milkweed this year and hope they continue to come! Meanwhile, we will continue to lobby for them as much as we can. I wish there was some way to help them in Mexico!

  5. Rita Pitkin says:

    Amazing as always. Thanks, Bryan, for the reminder of how brilliant and inspiring the natural world is.

  6. Good reminder to be safe remain aware.

    Be well Bryan,

    May the Valentine Phantom find you and bring you tidings of great love and joy!

  7. Ann Creaven says:

    Thank for the gift of color on these monochromatic days in the north. And your thoughts always welcome…

  8. Ann Linde says:

    The other day I listened to a pod cast about Delight. A poet, who was interviewed on it, keeps a daily log of things that delight him. These butterfly pictures (Yes, Eye Candy!) will be my first entry. Thank you for sharing Delight. Hoping you find plenty yourself in your travels.

    • Thanks so much, Ann. It’s nice to hear from you again. Yes, I’ll admit that it’s a bit odd to find delight in insects on pins. So I’ll explore the “psychology” of that at some point.

  9. Bob Curry says:

    Thanks to Carol Vassar for her Facebook comment. I am nominally a member but have not used it for years for, among other things, helping to foment racial hatred such as in Myanmar.

    • Although it helps me reach many more people with my writing, yeah, I agree that Facebook, on balance, has gotten out of control and has turned all of us into it profit-driven commodities. WE’RE its products. 🙁

  10. Don & Jenny Brown/Garber says:

    Thanks for sending along such beauty! Maybe if we all had our daily dose of nature we would not be where we are at now in America. Jen

    • There is also much to be said about how far we’ve come from that daily dose, Jen. As a Vermonter, I don’t often see the mega-sprawl of America. It’s shocking here in Texas.

  11. Caroline says:

    Thank you for reminding us in such a beautiful way of what we all need to remember in life. Nature opens its heart to give us all this beauty. May we draw that into our souls.

  12. Carol Vassar says:

    Thank you Bryan for using an alternative to facebook for dissemination of info.
    Given Facebooks willingness to partner with Trump, unofficially or not, by refusing to fact-check . I am no longer using Facebook

  13. Juan says:

    Thank-you Bryan, I always appreciate your thoughts, feelings and insights.

  14. MSharick says:

    Here’s another irony: the biologist most famous for elucidating the mimicry of monarchs to viceroys was Lincoln Brower of Amherst College.

  15. Judy Welna says:

    Thanks for this reminder of beauty… It’s becoming (sadly) easier to forget that there are species which aren’t preoccupied with infighting…we can always count on nature to astonish us, and to inspire us with life-affirming, positive energy. Discover great things along the Rio Grande, and continue to post reminders like this!

  16. Ann B Day says:

    Already sent but I will add
    These are beautiful beyond words.

  17. Ann B. Day says:

    Thank you Bryan. It is hard to believe that anything so beautiful was actually a living being. It is inspiring and we are grateful for passing it all on to us.
    Have a good trip to Rio Grande.
    Ann Day

  18. Judy Brook says:

    What beautiful “eye candy” ! Thank you. Enjoy the hunting along the Rio Grande.

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