As she did in Anatomy of a Rose, Russell focuses on the natural world here, now concentrating on insects that have long fascinated humans with their beauty, grace and magical ability to transform themselves from lowly caterpillars. According to the author, there are about 18,000 species of known butterflies, varying in color, mating behavior and migratory patterns. Russell merges wit, knowledge and poetic language in this engaging scientific rumination, recounting the stories of several obsessed collectors, including Eleanor Granville, who, in the early 1700s, was declared insane because of her hobby. Vladimir Nabokov is known to entomologists as the man who not only discovered several butterfly species, but reclassified North and South American blues. Russell provides many interesting anecdotes about butterfly mating practices and explains the difference between moths and butterflies. The monarch, for example, drops on the female and forces her to the ground, while a male queen butterfly more sensitively attracts his mate by the scent of the alkaloids he has ingested for this purpose. Some species, like male Apollos, are able to glue a sphragis, or shell, over the female's abdomen that functions as a chastity belt to prevent her from remating and losing the original male's sperm. Russell has produced a well researched and beautifully written natural history of these colorful insects.
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