About three years ago, I began a project of trying to take a bunch of butterfly photos. I had an old lecture with images in 35 mm slide format that I wanted to convert to a digital presentation. In the process, I discovered how much more I enjoyed taking digital photos of butterflies than using the old film format. My project quickly changed from getting images for a talk to starting a virtual butterfly collection.
Buckeye (Junonia coenia),
Willow Springs, IL July 18, 2010
This was one of the first specimens in my virtual collection.
I've collected butterflies most of my life. Early on my collecting was simply a hobby. As I began collecting for a variety of professional purposes, I stopped collecting for fun. Among other things, I couldn't justify taking the butterflies simply for my own amusement. Digital photography has changed all of that.
Caption: California Sister (Adelpha californica)
Madera Canyon, Arizona. July 31, 2012
I've been surprised at how similar digital photography is to collecting specimens. Both involve similar pleasures of the pursuit in the field and both require knowledge of habitats and host plants. Both result in a sense of elation at the moment of capture. Both involve work with the specimen once you get it home. In the case of the physical specimen this work involves relaxing, pinning mounting and labeling. In the case of the photograph, it involves cropping and correcting exposure. For me, one of the enjoyable parts of virtual collecting has been keeping records of date and location of capture that are just as rigorous as those that I would maintain for a pinned specimen.
Olympia Marble (Euchloe olympia).
Illinois Beach State Park May 11, 2011
Ethical and conservation concerns aside, there are additional advantages to virtual butterfly collecting over traditional specimen collecting. Want to collect an endangered species or collect in a National Park? Not so fast- you need a slew of permits and a really good reason to do so. But with a camera, you can take as many images as you would like. Are you traveling abroad and want to collect butterflies? Many countries now prohibit the export of species, and many more require a permit. In contrast, the images on your camera will go right through customs, no problem.
Karner Blue (Lyciades melissa samuelis)
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, May 30, 2009
A double whammy: This endangered species was virtually collected in a National Park.
One of the things that I always enjoyed with my specimen collection was looking at my specimens much later and remembering where I was, who I was with, and how much I was enjoying myself. I now get a very similar kind of enjoyment from my virtual collection-- and the specimens in it don't fade or break or get eaten by dermestid beetles. I'll continue collecting actual butterflies for the Nature Museum as the specifics of my work require it. But I also expect to be collecting virtually with my camera for my own enjoyment for the rest of my life.
Fatima Peacock (Anartia Fatima)
Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Jalisco, Mexico, February 15, 2012
I had no trouble getting this virtual specimen of a Fatima Peacock through customs when I returned home from Mexico.