The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists

Overview


War weary after writing a book about Iraq and psychologically fatigued by a career of reporting bad and sad news, Peter Laufer jokingly said his next book would be about butterflies and flowers, simple analogies for peace and love. The result: an invitation to a butterfly preserve in Nicaragua where he soon discovered the behind-the-scenes world of collectors, criminals, and cops obsessed with one of nature’s most compelling miracles.
 
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Overview


War weary after writing a book about Iraq and psychologically fatigued by a career of reporting bad and sad news, Peter Laufer jokingly said his next book would be about butterflies and flowers, simple analogies for peace and love. The result: an invitation to a butterfly preserve in Nicaragua where he soon discovered the behind-the-scenes world of collectors, criminals, and cops obsessed with one of nature’s most compelling miracles.
 
The Dangerous World of Butterflies chronicles Laufer’s adventures within the butterfly industry and the butterfly underground. He examines the allure of butterflies and recounts the constant role they have played throughout history and across cultures in mythology and art. But his research takes an unpredictable turn into the high-stake realms of organized crime, ecological devastation, species depletion, the integrity of museum collections, and chaos theory.
 
Along with beauty and renewal, the butterfly has become an unwitting symbol for greed and vanity. Laufer’s widely praised journey of discovery throughout the Americas and beyond offers a rare look into a theater of intrigue, peopled with quirky and nefarious characters—all in pursuit of these delicate, beautiful creatures.
 
Read this book, and your garden—and the world—will never look quite the same.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this absorbing and far-reaching chronicle, Laufer applies his insatiable journalistic appetite to exploring the crossroads where humans and butterflies meet." --NPR Science Desk
 
“[A] compelling, all-angles examination. . . . Laufer delivers an absorbing science lesson for fans of the colorful bugs.” --Publishers Weekly
 

"Recommended for scientists and lay readers who enjoyed Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief." —Library Journal
 

"Like The Orchid Thief, The Dangerous World of Butterflies takes us deep into the dark heart of obsessed collectors and the passionate activism of people working to repopulate species like the Palos Verdes blue. Worlds within worlds: Laufer, a veteran reporter on cultural and political borders, understands how these worlds cross and collide. His book is a Venn diagram of the beautiful and bizarre." --Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
 

"[Laufer's] book is charming and his attention to detail, combined with a real gift for describing these fascinating characters -- like calling entomologist Arthur Shapiro "an endless litany of intriguing butterfly stories" -- made me want to read everything else he has written." --Andrew Ervin, Washington Post
 

"...Laufer's The Dangerous World of Butterflies packs real entertainment wallop in a book filled with informed tidbits custom-designed for cocktail hour." --P. Joseph Potocki, The Bohemian
 

"A charming . . . meditation on butterflies and the people who love them." --Kirkus
 

"The Dangerous World of Butterflies: the Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists by Peter Laufer is an eye-opening peek into the world of butterfly collecting. From true crime to heated debates between butterfly conservationists and butterfly farmers, this book reads like a novel." --Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
"Like The Orchid Thief, a book that exposed many unexpected aspects connected to another of nature's beautiful gifts, The Dangerous World of Butterflies is an entertaining, enlightening read." --Seattle Times
 

"Laufer weaves his tale with a genial flair. . . . The journey with Laufer is one well worth taking." --Audubon
 

"From the natural history and ecology of the butterfly to the very real threat of butterfly extinction, the world of museum collections, and more, this social, political and natural history is a key acquisition for both general lending libraries and those interested in science issues." --Midwest Book Review

Andrew Ervin
[Laufer's] book is charming and his attention to detail, combined with a real gift for describing these fascinating characters…made me want to read everything else he has written. And I'm certain to look differently at the butterflies in my own backyard, knowing now how far they may have traveled to get there.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Turning from the Iraq War, author and journalist Laufer (Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq) decided to focus on the presumably innocuous business of butterflies. There, he found yet more violence, corruption and unanswered questions, resulting in another compelling all-angles examination. Fluttering across the globe for at least 40 million years, Lepidoptera face increasing threats in modern times, largely from habitat loss and pesticides. Amateur and professional butterfly experts weigh in on everything from art to conservation, breeding and butterfly sex to development and wing colors, as well as the meaning of their fascination for humans. Lepidopterology contains a surprising stack of unsolved mysteries, including the process of metamorphosis: what goes on in the chrysalis, in which every cell of the caterpillar's body liquefies before reconstituting into a butterfly, might as well be magic. Laufer also finds controversy in commercial breeding and discovers "worldwide criminal operations" in butterfly poaching and smuggling (in which driving species to near extinction is a standard practice for pushing up specimen prices). In casual prose, Laufer delivers an absorbing science lesson for fans of the colorful bugs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A charming but slightly scattershot meditation on butterflies and the people who love them. Radio journalist Laufer (Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, 2008, etc.), who usually covers grimmer topics like the Iraq war and the immigration debate, turned to this subject on a lark. Asked on a nationally televised reading what he would write about next, he joked that his next book would be about "butterflies and flowers." Jane Foulds, the owner of a butterfly reserve in Nicaragua, took him seriously and invited him to begin his research with the creatures she and her husband collected and bred for export in the Central American rainforest. After immersing himself in butterfly lore and visiting Foulds' reserva, he began to fall in love with the delicate-looking insects. Being a journalist, however, he naturally found his to controversy between breeders like the Fouldses, who sell butterflies in bulk to celebrants who release them for effect at weddings or funerals, and "purists" like academic Jeffrey Glassberg, who argues that butterflies should be left alone to delight us in their natural habitats. Laufer investigated the economic war between commercial loggers and naturalists in Mexico's Sierra Nevada, where the monarchs' breeding ground is imperiled. He also came across smugglers of endangered species and the agents on their trail, artists who use butterfly scales like paint on their canvases and lepidopterophobes who break into a sweat at the sight of a buckeye or swallowtail. Upon meeting the eccentric creationist who owns Florida's Butterfly World, Laufer proselytized about metamorphosis and intelligent design. Disappointingly, he was too charmed by the magic to get aDarwinian perspective. Given his otherwise omnivorous approach to the material and his claim to be on the evolution side of the debate, it's one important leaf Laufer left unturned. A flawed but pleasing survey of nature's most beautiful insects.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781599219271
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/4/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Laufer PhD is the author of more than a dozen books, including Forbidden Creatures (Lyons Press, forthcoming) and Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border.  He is the James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.  More about his work, which has received the George Polk, Edward R. Murrow, and other awards, at peterlaufer.com.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: A Relentless Quest for Tranquility ix

Chapter 1 Off to Nicaragua and an Introduction to Lepidoptera 1

Chapter 2 With the Purists Where Butterflies Fly Free 21

Chapter 3 My Successful Commercial Butterfly Release 40

Chapter 4 Diapause 64

Chapter 5 The Flight and Plight of the Monarch 77

Chapter 6 In Pursuit of the World's Most Wanted Butterfly Smuggler 103

Chapter 7 Death-defying, Globe-trotting Butterfly Hunting 128

Chapter 8 Butterflies versus National Security 155

Chapter 9 The Butterfly as Art 182

Chapter 10 Creation versus Evolution 204

Chapter 11 Butterfly Resurrection 228

Epilogue 253

Acknowledgments 256

Endnotes 259

Index 263

About the Author 272

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Recipe



War weary after writing a book about Iraq and psychologically fatigued by a career of reporting bad and sad news, Peter Laufer jokingly said his next book would be about butterflies and flowers, simple analogies for peace and love. The result: an invitation to a butterfly preserve in Nicaragua where he soon discovered the behind-the-scenes world of collectors, criminals, and cops obsessed with one of nature’s most compelling miracles.
 
The Dangerous World of Butterflies chronicles Laufer’s adventures within the butterfly industry and the butterfly underground. He examines the allure of butterflies and recounts the constant role they have played throughout history and across cultures in mythology and art. But his research takes an unpredictable turn into the high-stake realms of organized crime, ecological devastation, species depletion, the integrity of museum collections, and chaos theory.
 
Along with beauty and renewal, the butterfly has become an unwitting symbol for greed and vanity. Laufer’s ever-expanding journey of discovery throughout the Americas and beyond offers a rare look into a theater of intrigue, peopled with quirky and nefarious characters—all in pursuit of these delicate, beautiful creatures.
 
Read this book, and your garden—and the world—will never quite look the same.
Read More Show Less

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Great Read

    The title grabbed me, and I'm so glad it did. A terrifically enjoyable read that has stimulated me to more research and enjoyment.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2009

    A must for butterfly lovers.

    I've raised and released butterflies as a hobby for a few years. The Dangerous World delves into: raising butterflies for sale (dead and alive), butterfly conservatories, environmental concerns and a great general background. Very thorough and well-balanced writing. I learned a great deal - while entertained. Enamored by butterflies? This is a must read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Butterfly mania

    This book gives a balanced view of differing opinions about butterfly collecting vs. butterfly observing. The perspectives of both amateur and professional butterfly enthusiasts are given about that issue as well as the question of the advisability of releasing living butterflies at weddings and other celebrations. The chapters about the collection and sale of threatened and endangered exotic tropical butterflies characterize the slide into criminal activity that may occur among unscrupulous collectors. The stories of such activity are intriguing, and should alert people interested in purchasing such exotic creatures to be wary of the effect that their behavior may have on the continuation of illegal activities, and more importantly, the effect that their behavior might have on the sustainability of natural populations of such beautiful insects.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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