Monday 21 February 2022

Chamberlain's Butterfly

 This attractive Caribbean butterfly is Chamberlain's Yellow (Pyrisitia chamberlaini), and it is named after none other than Neville Chamberlain, the much maligned prime minister who tried to buy peace by appeasing Hitler (a policy supported by most of the population at the time). When Chamberlain was a young man, his father sent him to the Bahamas to establish a plantation that he hoped would revive the family fortunes. In the event, the plantation failed, but young Neville enjoyed himself exploring the insect life of the islands, especially the butterflies. Of those he collected, the yellow beauty above turned out to be a new species, initially assigned to the genus Eurema, then reassigned to Pyrisitia (you can never rely on binomials to stay the same for long). 
  Chamberlain remained a keen naturalist and, in particular, butterfly collector throughout his life. Despite his thoroughly urbanised appearance and trademark rolled umbrella, he was a countryman, while Stanley Baldwin, though blessed with the demeanour of a down-to-earth farmer, was no such thing. Chamberlain is said to have grumbled to a colleague that 'I know every flower; S.B. knows none. I shoot and fish; S.B. does neither. Yet he is known as the countryman and I as the townsman.' Chamberlain simply didn't look the part – and that, in politics as elsewhere, is half the battle. 
  Another leading politician with a serious interest in natural history was the great bird man Sir Edward Grey, about whom I have written before (here). And then there was Winston Churchill, a keen butterfly man, whose interest in the insects was, later in life, largely aesthetic. At Chartwell shortly before the war, he embarked on an ambitious project to breed and release the extinct (in Britain) Black-Veined White and the Continental Swallowtail. Despite the expert assistance of the well known 'butterfly farmer' L. Hugh Newman, these efforts ended ignominiously when the Chartwell gardeners cut down and burned the fennel plants on which the Swallowtail larvae were feeding, then mistakenly destroyed the muslin bags containing the Black-Veined White larvae. You can't win them all...

No comments:

Post a Comment