A world of butterflies

THESSALONIKI – It was the sight of butterflies fluttering around a gas lamp one evening in the village of Makrinitsa, on Mount Pelion, that set an 11-year-old boy on a lifelong journey of discovery into the world of entomology. Athanassios Koutroubas, who now lives in Volos, made his first important observation in summer 1958 – of nocturnal lepidoptera of the Heterocera species – and knew what he wanted to do with his life. Since then, Koutroubas has not stopped traveling, undeterred by tropical forests, slippery mountainsides, precipitous gorges or the vast plains of Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. He has visited dozens of countries including Brazil, Argentina, the USA, Canada, Ivory Coast, Ecuador, Ghana, Egypt and India in his relentless search for the biggest, the most beautiful and the rarest butterfly. The boy from Mt Pelion whose passion for entomology sent him to study at Athens Agricultural University, is now on the list of European entomological researchers that have amassed considerable collections of butterflies. The Museum of Entomology he founded in Volos in 1987 includes the largest butterfly collection in the Balkans, comprising 30,000 butterflies representing 10,000 different species and subspecies, along with 5,000 other species of insects. The insects are classified according to the rules of Systematic Entomology and 5 percent of the museum’s lepidoptera have been exchanged with other researchers or are gifts. Greek varieties A large part of the collection is given over to the butterflies of Greece, where there are 400 diurnal species. The number of nocturnal species has not yet been determined. One of the rarest in Greece, and in fact in the world, is the Pseudochazara amymone, an «ugly» brown butterfly that only an expert can recognize. A Belgian collector has some samples of this species, which he found near Ioannina, in northern Greece. Among the jewels in the collection is the Copiopteryx semiramis, a rare species which Koutroubas brought from the Orinoco, in South America. Thousands of schoolchildren and university students visit the museum every year, as well as Greek and foreign entomologists. For the first time this year, this unique collection will be exhibited at Volos Municipality’s Cultural Center, where visitors will be guided by Koutroubas, who continues to travel the world to enrich his collection, despite the difficulties and costs involved. «It’s all a matter of making up one’s mind, packing a rucksack and taking off,» he said. A research mission of about one to one-and-a-half months could net him 1,500-2,500 butterflies, along with the pleasure of discovery he first felt that night in Makrinitsa, so many years ago.

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