Jamie Samman

This conversation is closed.

How do you perceive butterflies and moths?

I'm spending my final year of study at Northumbria University looking specifically at what design can do to protect the diminishing species of butterflies and moths in the UK. I'll be exploring how we perceive butterflies and moths, and the potential to change peoples' attitudes towards conservation.

Closing Statement from Jamie Samman

Hi everyone,

I'd just like to say a massive thank you for all your contributions, you've all been a great help!

My project is really gaining speed now, I've spoke to a butterfly conservationist and an entomologist, and am in the process of contacting a farmer to talk to, so I can get a good picture of the implications of farming to butterfly conservation.

The emotional side of butterflies and moths is something you've made me really excited about, and the power of these insects as an educational tool is fascinating.

Thanks you all so much,

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    Nov 22 2013: It's interesting~. I 'd like to tell you what our Chinese traditionally perceive butterflies and moths in our culture.

    Butterflies: Because they're beautiful and flying around everywhere, they're usually likened to some beautiful women who don't want to settle down in one place or devote themselves to one relationship. But they're also used to describe as a happy couple in pair who can love each other with as much freedom as they want. We have a very famous musical work:"Liang shanbo and Zhu yingtai "(kind of "Romeo and Juliet"). In the love story, after the two characters commit suicide because of love, they turn into two butterflies being able to live with each other at last.

    Moths: They don't seem to be smart in our culture because they always tend to fly into a flame to burn their body to death. We have a saying to use the moths to express someone seeks his own doom without wisdom.( And personally I don't like their powder on their bodies).
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      Nov 23 2013: nice story :-)
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      Nov 23 2013: Its a pity, isn't it, that some humans tend to judge the smartness of another species on knowledge they themselves don't possess.
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        Nov 23 2013: I don't get it. What's the knowledge do you mean?You mean the moths are smart with what reason?
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          Nov 24 2013: Imagine you are a night animal and your major source of orientation in darkness is light, 'natural' light, such as the light of the moon or that of bright stars. Imagine further, that this, your orientation, works perfectly well for hundred thousands of years - until another species sparked more and more 'artificial' light sources all over the place, which renders your once reliable compass useless. And as your inbuilt 'GPS' is now confused and brings you right at those new light sources - the moon and stars were out of reach before - you not often burn to death in open flames, yet also exhaust pretty often at close range to bright lights, because your instinct keeps dragging you there, as it lost track of the original sources. And while you die in large numbers, because evolution can not upgrade your navigation system fast enough, you are seen as stupid, or suicidal, by this species, who began to lit the night for their comfort...

          Is your orientation ability linked to your smartness?
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        Nov 24 2013: Hi, Lejan~, anyway, hope you enjoy the butterfly legend too. Please see the link
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          Nov 24 2013: I always wondered how beautiful young woman, disguised as young man, managed to stay unnoticed. Either, legend made them more beautiful as a woman than they were, or, man in those times didn't have much interest in basic femininity ... :o)

          Yet she was the ninth child, which certainly helped ... ;o)

          As you may noticed, I am not that much into this kind of stories, sorry ...
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        Nov 24 2013: If I were a night animal and I could fly, I'd like to be an owl instead. Owl is smarter than a moth. However, I agree moths have their inborn limitation and their uniqueness is fearlessness. They represent a spirt of sacrificing for their belief.:)
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          Nov 24 2013: Its not about choice and not about spirit. Its about noise on a frequency one have to have clear for senses to work as they developed. So let me ask you again ... is your orientation ability linked to your smartness?
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        Nov 24 2013: Usually Chinese women have a flatter upper body than that of western women. And some women have a voice just like a man's.(You can also find some men's voice is very feminine )We had a famous true ancient story about a young girl " Hua Mulan", who took place of her weak father to serve the army compulsorily and became a successful soldier in all battles. She returned home in full glory and changed back to a woman‘s dressing at last. It's a very inspiring story and even Disney adopted it to make the movie" Mulan". Here's the link of "Hua Mulan", hope you like it~!
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          Nov 24 2013: I assume basic femininity in China is not reduced to a womans 'upper body'.
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          Nov 24 2013: And, did Hua Mulan destroy the Wu empire and thereby changed the history of belongings or did her deeds made other history possible at a different time?

          Honestly, I don't see any reason to glorify warriors, as it conserves a wrong message.
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        Nov 25 2013: I don't quite understand your point. I can say I also have my inborn limitation: I can't fly like a bird. But in general, I'm much smarter than a moth. And we also compare animals' intelligence with one another: like dolphins and chimpanzees being smarter except humans. Why can't say moths aren't smart?
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        Nov 25 2013: And you have confused the historic character among Chinese dynasties.The only female Chinese sovereign is " Wu Zetian" who belongs to the Tang Dynasty: Please check the link out.

        She's inhumane when she carried out her plan to grab the power of ruling the country. She killed her own newly born baby(daughter) and succeeded in putting the blame on the Empress Wang to make the emperor abolish her empress' title and treat her badly. She also ordered people to kill the empress after she took over the reign by cutting all her legs and arms off and ordered people to marinate her torso into a jar full of something like alcohol. Despite of her cruelty ,she still contributed a lot to the whole country's development.
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          Nov 25 2013: Certainly deeds of a superior smart species.

          Yet I didn't confuse historic characters, as I was referring to a past conversation we once had about wars and the change of possessions. Never mind either.
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        Nov 25 2013: Hua Mulan didn't change the history, but her story influneced a lot of people and some of them made it into plays and poems to pass on her spirit from generations to generations. It did contribute to our culture.
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          Nov 25 2013: So Hua Mulan managed to spent years in the army, actively, yet never killed an opponent or ordered to kill any? Interesting, because if she did, she would have changed history, wouldn't she?
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        Nov 25 2013: Hua Mulan was recorded in the literary works with some historical descriptions .
        But still it's said she may be a legend with people's skepticism. She doesn't have anything to do with the Wu dynasty.
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          Nov 25 2013: It seems you don't remember our past conversation, or you pretend not to. Anyway, if not in the Wu empire, then other people have certainly been dispossess by her wars in other empires she fought against. Or did she exclusively fought in a civil war?
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        Nov 25 2013: Never mind. You can think your moths are smart. And I think Wu Zetian owns the talent in leadership. And she's beautiful in her time.But she can't fully represent the smartness of humans because she's not humane. Some really smart people don't like to control or kill people but to invent all kinds of new things to help people or change the world for better.
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          Nov 25 2013: As I said, you didn't understand my point about moths.

          Yet certainly irritating to me is your ability to view Wu Zetian as 'beautiful' considering certain 'details' you reported about her. As by those alone, I could and would not award her any 'talent', especially not in leadership, which you, in my view, confuse with cruelty and cold-blooded gain and retention of power. And no, smartness has never been an antidote against brutality, on the contrary, as at times it even perfected oppression and dictatorship, as history tells us.
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        Nov 26 2013: Sorry to hear you've been irritated by my words yet I didn't notice anything. Please don't take it personally and calm down. Let me answer your question as follows:

        "Anyway, if not in the Wu empire, then other people have certainly been dispossess by her wars in other empires she fought against. Or did she exclusively fought in a civil war? "

        Her real existence is still under exploration. No records were found about her battles. I think she at most took part in some battles or wars. She didn't launch any war.

        And about Wu Zetian, I think we have the simillar views on this kind of person but with different expressing ways. And you don't think she's a good leader. Your words " And no, smartness has never been an antidote against brutality, ..." made me think.
        After all, I only extended some humble views of my own.
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          Nov 26 2013: How could you have noticed my irritation before me stating it? As long as we are not getting our crystal balls to work reliably, I am not expecting this.

          Let me be precise on what I meant about Hua Mulan weather she was an existing figure or not or weather she didn't launch a war on her own. As you stated, that she didn't change history, my standpoint is, that anyone who takes the life of another being does change history.
          The fact that we can never know in which way this change turns out is thereby irrelevant.
          So by assuming she was an existing figure and did kill as a regular solider another regular solider, even though she didn't started the war herself, she, by this alone, already did change history. Thats all I was pointing at,

          On Wu Zetian I am not certain if our views are actually similar, as you assume, as my forming of an opinion about a person - dead or alive - is always holistic and never reduced to certain 'positive' outcomes.

          For example, if there was evidence, that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a pedophile and would have acted upon it, all his legacy would turn worthless to me, as it would have lost its foundation of validity.

          So if Wu Zetian killed her own child as part of political tactics, how could she ever be a good leader to other people if she has the capacity for such cruelty? Leadership to me is separate from having power or control over people, in fact, its the absolute opposite.

          Taking the history of my own nation, I get extremely angry with some people who honestly believe, after all what happened, that Hitler also did something good for our nation during his time of dictatorship. He got all people out of unemployment, he build the infrastructure of nationwide highways and restored national independence from the Treaty of Versailles ... and similar rubbish of this sort. As if any of this matters in relation to what this person caused and as if none of this could have been accomplished in any peaceful manner. Stupidity is persistent!
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          Nov 26 2013: Yet it seems we've gotten quite a bit off topic here ...
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      Nov 24 2013: great story Yoka! it's not often I get an insight into the cultural significance of butterflies in China, your story was really inspiring. One of the earliest memories I have of them is going to a local country estate home, that had been converted to a large butterfly sanctuary inside. I vividly remember, even though it was some time ago, a butterfly resting on my hand, it was a wonderful experience!
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        Nov 25 2013: Thank you Jamie. I'm very glad to hear you like the story. It must be amazing to feel a butterfly standing on your hand, which sounds very lucky~!
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        Nov 25 2013: Jamie and Yoka,
        I visited a butterfly farm in Costa Rica years ago, where hundreds of butterflies were fluttering around, and a few landing on us. It was very lovely:>)

        I have not heard that it is lucky for a butterfly to land on us, but it certainly felt very lucky to me! It is said that dragonflies landing on us is lucky, so why not butterflies as well?

        "Known in folklore as a messenger from the natural world, a dragonfly in the garden is thought to put you in touch with nurturing spirits to create magical transformations". :>)
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      Nov 24 2013: Nice story Yoka. I wonder if that is where the saying started....s/he is a social butterfly? S/he flits around?
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        Nov 25 2013: Thank you. But I don't get your meaning by "the saying". What's it?
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          Nov 25 2013: Hi Yoka,
          What I meant by a "saying" is cliché....a trite phrase or expression, which often has roots in an actual behavior, belief, or practice:>)
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        Nov 25 2013: Hi, Colleen,I know the word "saying", but I don't know what you referred to specifically. In the story, the two people are not social butterflies, they are butterflies in love with each other. We have a Chinese phrase: "Shuang su shuang fei",which means a couple “flying everywhere in pair”.
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          Nov 25 2013: Oh Yoka....sorry I misunderstood your question!

          The part of your story that prompted my thought of the cliché.....a "social butterfly" is.....
          " Because they're beautiful and flying around everywhere, they're usually likened to some beautiful women who don't want to settle down in one place or devote themselves to one relationship".
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        Nov 26 2013: Hi, Colleen, that's all right.
        What I said was our traditional perspections about the butterflies: one is likened to beautiful and a little playful women which are not in pairs;another is the imagination of pairs of lovers with freedom when they are in pairs. And one example of the latter perception is the "Liang Zhu" story.
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    Nov 25 2013: It's amazing to me to think that the vivid colour on some butterfly wings is not pigment at all, but iridescence. I'm a big fan of biomimetics, and this optical trickery I'm sure could be used more in technology, like iridescent displays:


    These colour displays actually work best in direct sunlight.

    Also moth's eyes have amazing anti-reflective qualities to help them see better in the dark, using a natural nanostructured film, which decreases reflection by effectively removing the air-lens interface:


    Possibilities there for improving anti-reflective coatings on lenses.

    There's so much we can learn from the natural world - one good reason to conserve all we can!
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      Nov 25 2013: Fascinating Allan, and I agree.....there is a lot we can learn from the natural world. I never knew about the moth's eyes....amazing. The colors in nature....butterflies, dragonflies, birds, etc. are also amazing, and bring me pleasure every moment that I observe them:>) As many times as I have seen a monarch butterfly for example, I am still awed by that little fluttering colorful creature:>)
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      Nov 26 2013: very true Allan, we recently had a talk from Raymond Oliver, a specialist in nano technology who discussed the potential of biomimicry in design, and how butterflies possess some really exciting traits! thanks for your inspiring comment
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    Nov 24 2013: There's an AskmeAnything on Reddit right now with a guy who dissects moth penises for work (this is to confirm species, amazing what you learn everyday!)
    Just thought that I'd jump in and say that...
    Link: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1rcu9p/iama_moth_penis_dissector_by_profession_ama/

    Oh and I like both moths and butterflies, butterflies more because of the rich colors I think.
    I think that design has a huge part to play in the survival of these species, providing sanctuaries for these creatures throughout the cities (and countryside) is important for the biodiversity and ecosystems of the world.
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      Nov 25 2013: wow I'm staggered by the fact there are over 3000 people talking about the manhoods of moths! Cheers for your input Jimmy, really made me chuckle. And you're absolutely right, sanctuaries play a massive role in the conservation of these insects, and they're not really something I considered until you mentioned it. Next stop, the nearest butterfly haven!
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    Nov 24 2013: Nice project and good discussion Jamie....thanks.
    Have you watched these TED talks and films by Louie Schwartzberg? They are beautiful, and tell the story about pollinators.....enjoy, and welcome to TED conversations:>)


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      Nov 25 2013: no thank you Colleen! I've just watched the links you posted, absolutely fascinating. Thanks so much for your input, it's greatly appreciated!

      And I'm ecstatic to be part of the TED family, everyone's been really inspirational :)
  • Nov 21 2013: Butterflies are big favorites in the photography world. There are a number of butterfly gardens here in the US. It also seems to be very popular to have an indoor collection of butterflies in arboretums with tropical plants.

    Here are some neat links:




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    Nov 23 2013: I'm a butterfly fan and fortunately, where I live are lots of them. However, I also consciously cultivate plants that attract butterflies.
    Butterflies are probably diminishing because they are kind of special compared to other insects and many gardens are probably not butterfly friendly because people just don't realize what flowers work and don't work with butterflies and they also don't realize that many caterpillars need a specific plant to feed on.
    Which brings us to another "problem". While people like butterflies they usually don't like caterpillars munching on their plants, often killing them.
    As to moths. They are usually considered creatures of the night and not very attractive because not as colorful as butterflies (not sure if that is actually true).
    However, I found that some moths have wonderful colorful caterpillars which one never would imagine to turn into a grey moth.
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      Nov 24 2013: I'm a big butterfly fan as well Harald, and have lots of plants that butterflies like. I agree with everything you write, except that moths are not as colorful or attractive. Are you familiar with the luna moth? I've only seen them a few times, but they are magnificent! And there are others that are interesting as well. I just had to speak up for the poor moths:>)

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        Nov 25 2013: Hi Colleen, no I'm not familiar with the Lunar moth. Actually I have a hard time differentiating between moth and butterfly.
        I'll check out the lunar moth. We have moths here (at least I think it's moths) almost as large as a small bird, but unfortunately they are not colorful.
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          Nov 26 2013: Harald,
          It you are going to check it out, it is "luna", rather than lunar.....link in my comment above.
          The Luna Moth is one of the largest....4.5 inch wingspan:>)
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        Nov 26 2013: Hi Colleen, nice critter, not what one typically expects a moth to look like. Btw, since I was already looking up the luna moth, I saw that there are even more colorful moths.
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          Nov 26 2013: Yeah...beautiful critter huh? You found more colorful moths....imagine that!
          Nice discovery:>)

          "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes..."
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        Nov 26 2013: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes..."
        This is very true and I also remember that when I talk to my friend Jim Conrad who is a naturalist (www,backyardnature.net in case you are interested).
        He sees the world with an eye that's different from most people I know. He finds something amazing in almost anything whether that is the particular arrangement of a water drop on a leaf or a spider net or some slimy fungus.
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          Nov 26 2013: I LOVE it, because I see the world like that as well:>)
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    Nov 22 2013: Butterflies are are the flowers of the animal kingdom. Moths are the insane seekers of heat and light.

    Seriously, interesting focus of study. My perception is that butterflies and moths are as different to each other as horses and mules.Butterflies are the essence of unpredictability and fragility. Moths are always unwelcome, always shunned.
  • Nov 22 2013: I would vote to keep butterflies and moths are OK

    I have a farm field that is not currently in crops. Last year a large area of Canadian Thistle was growing in the field and since the Farm Service Agency requires that noxious weeds be eliminated from fields I mowed the thistle. While mowing I was engulfed in a cloud of butterflies. The butterflies are now pretty much gone this year.

    The point is that whenever you look at a farm field you should note that that is one of the most barren pieces of land that exists. I would think that a parking lot has more bio diversity than a corn field.

    My guess is much of your butterfly habitat has turned to farmland and thus you have less butterflies
  • Nov 21 2013: Love them. I watch the monarch migration yearly. Also know that they do an amazing amount of the "grunt work" in pollination and support bat populations, bird populations, lizard populations, etc. Very important little animals, and a lot nicer to watch than swarms of mosquitos.
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    Nov 24 2013: Thanks for all your amazing responses, it's great to see so many people out there who share a similar interest to butterflies and moths! I think the emotional qualities of butterflies is such a rich vein to tap into, it seems like everyone has some deep rooted memories of spotting and photographing them. In response to a few of you questioning the value of this project in terms of the negative effect it could potentially have on biodiversity as a whole (i.e. butterfly and moth decline could be happening for a natural reason, so changing it could have wider implications), I am going to be approaching my project with the upmost sensitivity, by considering all stakeholders and living things involved before making any rash decisions! (I won't be making anything to capture moth eating birds!)

    Thanks again!
  • Nov 22 2013: Both beautiful light vs. dark or blamd
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    Nov 21 2013: When I was a kid we had quite a few butterflies. Now there aren't any. The best I can figure is that the same measures that kill mosquitoes kill butterflies. Too bad.