[This month we sit down for a chat with the Bard of Ely, Steve Andrews. Here, he discusses his new book, The Magic of Butterflies and Moths.]
ev0ke: You recently released The Magic of Butterflies and Moths. First, congratulations! Second, why a book on butterflies and moths? What drew you to that topic?
Steve Andrews: Thank you so much! What drew me to the topic of butterflies and moths was the fact that they are a very big part of my life now and were when I was a boy. My fascination with these amazing insects has remained with me throughout my life.
ev0ke: How did the book come about? Did you approach Moon Books or did they come to you with the idea?
SA: Actually it was my idea, my idea for a series of books with titles that would start with “The Magic of…” I put the idea to Trevor Greenfield of Moon Books and also suggested I could write about The Magic of Butterflies and Moths.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into The Magic of Butterflies and Moths? Long discussions with lepidopterists? Hours pouring through stacks of books?
SA: I have been learning about butterflies and moths since I was a little boy, so you could say that the experiences of a lifetime and all the knowledge I have gained went into my book. When I was a child my parents used to buy me books on insects and nature, which I avidly devoured. I buy books on these subjects now and the ones I consulted while researching are listed at the end of my book. I also checked some information online.
ev0ke: What biological or magical piece of information did you absolutely **have** to include? Was there anything that you left out but that you hope to include in another book?
SA: The real magic in the life of a butterfly is the incredible transformation it goes through from tiny egg to caterpillar, then into a chrysalis and finally the winged wonder of the adult. Of course, I mentioned this, but I think the amazing way that butterfly species can migrate over incredible distances was something else that I had to talk about. I could have concentrated on specific families of butterflies and moths and written a lot more about the many individual species. When I say “a lot more,” I mean I could have written an entire book just about “The Magic of Hawk Moths.”
ev0ke: Tough question: if you had to pick a favorite butterfly or moth, what would it be and why?
SA: That is a very difficult question to answer but I think I am going to choose the Monarch Butterfly. My reasons for doing so are many. First of all because I think it is one of the best-known species in the world, secondly because of this butterfly’s incredible migrations across North America, and thirdly because it is a good example of a species that is dependent on particular food-plants. Also it is an example of an insect that employs warning colours to deter predators from attacking and eating it. What I mean by this is that the caterpillars build up the poisons they absorb from the milkweed plants they feed on to the extent that the adult butterflies they become are toxic to many animals that might want to eat them. Warning colours are bold contrasting colours that are a signal in the natural world that says “I am poisonous and can make you very ill or even kill you, so leave me alone!” I also talk about my experiences with these butterflies, and include the story of the three-winged female Monarch, who survived an attack by my pet cat.
ev0ke: Butterfly gardens can be a good way to help out threatened Lepidoptera populations. For people on a budget or with limited space, can you offer any advice on how to create or support?
SA: A very good question, and yes, I can offer some advice. If you do not have access to a garden it is still possible to try a mini version of a butterfly garden as long as you have a balcony, a backyard or even a window box. If you are able to grow plants that butterflies and moths need then you might be successful in attracting some of these insects. When I lived in Tenerife I had female Monarchs coming to lay their eggs on potted Tropical Milkweed I had growing on my terrace. I lived in an apartment in a multi-storey block at the time. I have friends on the island that have had the same sort of success. I have also had several species of moth caterpillar on plants I have been growing on balconies. An important point I make is that we don’t only need to think about providing flowers adult butterflies and moths can gather nectar from but we also need to grow plants their larvae need. Remember the females of these insects fly about looking for places to lay their eggs. It can be a real surprise to see what turns up.
ev0ke: In addition to gardens, what advice can you offer to those who want to help?
SA: A good way to help, even if you are unable to have any sort of butterfly garden, is to support charities that help the conservation of butterflies, moths and other insects. For example, I am a member of Butterfly Conservation and Buglife in the UK. I list these organisations with their contact details in my book. Something else that can be done is to take part in butterfly and moth surveys, in which members of the public are encouraged to go out on a short 15-minute walk and make a note of what species they see. This information is a real help to experts who are engaged in studying species and in the conservation of the insects. The results of these surveys can be used to plot the distribution of a species of butterfly or moth and to see how well they are doing in a particular area and in a particular year. Sir David Attenborough has promoted the Big Butterfly Count, which is an example of what I am talking about.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
SA: Besides my books and other writing, I am also often working on my music and promoting it. I have a number of songs about environmental conservation, including “Where Does All The Plastic Go?”, “The Nightingale,” and “Mother Nature Rap.” A song of mine that is very popular with audiences and that I always play live is “Butterfly In My Beard.” I show everyone how to make butterflies by putting their outstretched hands together with their fingers pointing upwards to make the wings and their crossed thumbs as antennae. I sing: “Make a butterfly and fly with me, say Yeah!”