As you are walking around your home area, or any other area for that matter, do you ever wonder who lives behind those anonymous front doors? Within our London suburb reside all sorts of interesting people, including believe it or not, the world’s greatest authority on the butterflies of Venezuela.
Meet Andrew Neild, Grange Park resident and said butterfly expert.
Andrew caught the ‘butterfly bug’ (excuse the terrible pun), after spending time in Venezuela as a child and resolved as a teenager to dedicate his life to writing the definitive guide to Venezuelan butterflies. As a young man as well as gaining a Masters degree in Latin, he spent three years in the field, mainly in the Andes and the remote South of the country researching butterflies for his first book The Butterflies of Venezuela, Volume 1, which was published in 1996, covering 274 species. The book is still in print, priced £75.
Andrew estimates that there are around 20,000 butterfly species in the world, of which over 8,000 are to be found in Central and South America. Hundreds of new species and subspecies are found (or described) a year, to use the correct terminology for the identification of an unknown specimen. So many new species and subspecies are being discovered because they are often extremely localised, occurring in areas of only a few hundred square metres. This localisation may be the result of adaptation to specific micro habitats, or perhaps due to the rarity of the food plants used by their larvae, or in some cases because they live in the canopy over 40 metres above the forest floor. In an area as vast as the Amazon basin, for example, there will be many colonies of such "rare" butterflies, but they will never be discovered until a road or track is pushed through their tiny colony.
Andrew is certain that there are many more as yet unnamed and unrecorded butterflies to be found. He has described 10 new butterfly species, including Pagyris renelichyi shown here.
This is in addition to at least a hundred new subspecies, found only in specific geographical areas. Part of the cataloguing process requires naming the new species and many colleagues, friends and family including his wife Alice and son Jack have had butterflies named after them!
Podanotum andrewneildi Philaethria neildi
Andrew in turn has had a rare tree frog names after him, meet Phyllomedusa neildi!
A house husband and primary carer of his son Jack, Andrew’s work requires hours of dedicated research and collaboration with other butterfly specialists all over the world. Volume Two of Butterflies of Venezuela was published in 2008 (£110) and volumes 3 – 5 are in progress, covering over 1200 species. He is a Scientific Associate of the Natural History Museum in London; regularly contributes to scientific papers and leads butterfly tours to Ecuador and other parts of South America, although sadly not to Venezuela as he says it is too dangerous for tour parties.
Andrew is also an expert photograher, there are many stunning images on his website, as well as in his books.
Family commitments limit how long he is able to spend in tropical South American rain forests. His next tour (which he describes as one of his “odysseys”) will be to Ecuador in October and November and has already nearly sold out. In the future he would like to run an eco-n Ecuador and spend more time introducing butterfly lovers and photographers to his wonderful world (if his family allow him).
The world would be a poorer place without the single-minded dedication of people like Andrew.