But if butterflies fare poorly in the public eye, their fans get even less respect. In the media, lepidopterists are, at best, depicted as knobby-kneed kooks in pith helmets, leaping through fields, nets a-swinging. The late Rev. Ron Gatrelle, an avid lepidopterist in the Carolinas, once told me of the reactions of locals when he walked backroads with his net: “As far as they’re concerned, I might as well be wearing pink tights.”
The task of popularizing butterfly watching has been largely taken up by organizations like the North American Butterfly Association. But Pyle has kept his lepidopterist instincts sharp, and periodically he returns to his roots. In 2008 he spent the entire year trying to see how many different species of butterflies he could find on this continent north of Mexico, as described in his epic new travelogue, Mariposa Road.
Well, why not? Birders have been doing “big years” for years—on a local level since the 1890s, on a continent-wide scale since the 1930s, tallying as many avian species as possible in 12 months. Butterfly watching followed the trajectory of birding at a remove of several decades, so it was inevitable that someone would finally give butterflies their due.
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