“You’ve written a book about butterfly smuggling?” More than one friend has asked this question. Yes, my next book is about butterfly poaching. The title is Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Thief and will published by William Morrow next April. The story involves smuggling and an amazing three-year undercover operation that took place. It turns out there’s quite a market for what are essentially winged bugs. And why not? They’ve been symbols of the spirit throughout history, they get to be born twice, and they transform from creepy crawly caterpillars into winged versions of Victoria’s Secret models. That’s quite the ugly duckling story.
I think the most iconic butterfly is probably the Queen Alexandra. Hey, the name alone demands respect. Touting a 12-inch wingspan, Queen Alexandras are larger than many birds and are one of the most endangered butterflies in the world.
“How did it get its name?” you ask. Good question. Lord Walter Rothschild named the species in honor of Queen Alexandra of England in 1907. Seeing them fly in the wilds of Papua New Guinea at that time must have been quite a sight to behold. The butterflies are so big that early explorers knocked them out of the sky with their shotguns.
Queen Alexandras aren’t seen very much these days, except for those that are caught, killed, and mounted. Their small strip of coastal rainforest continues to be destroyed to make way for oil palm, cocoa, and rubber plantations. The butterfly’s existence is so precarious that it’s illegal to capture and sell specimens. But that hasn’t stopped the blackmarket trade where the asking price can run $8,500-$10,000 for a pair of these winged jewels.
Want to learn more about the Queen Alexandra? Check out this fun, informative video on YouTube.
This is a picture of a male Queen Alexandra courtesy of The Butterfly Zoo.