If you remember the 1991 Jonathan Demme film “Silence of the Lambs” you may remember the psychopathic serial killer character “Buffalo Bill.” He liked to skin his victims, but on his more charming side he liked to raise Death’s-Head moths (Acherontia styx). By the way, the pupa found in the throat of one of Bill’s on-screen victims was actually made of Gummy Bears and Tootsie Rolls. On this week’s What’s Bugging You, Art Evans interviews another writer (you can tell what he’s doing with his summer vacation). This time it’s Jessica Speart the author of several mysteries and a freelance journalist in wildlife enforcement issues. Her latest book is the non-fiction thriller Winged Obsession which exposes a world of greed and smuggling – the illegal and lucrative trade in exotic butterflies.
The story centers on Obsession. The obsession of Yoshi Kojima, a Japanese merchant of illegally acquired species, especially rare and endangered ones. The obsession of U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent Ed Newcomer who worked undercover for three years to bust Kojima. The obsession of the author who wanted to know everything she could know about the case and especially about the Japanese smuggler and who traveled to Japan to ferret him out on her own.
In “Silence of the Lambs,” Buffalo Bill was brought down by a moth, and in the end, Kojima was brought down by an endangered butterfly, albeit the largest butterfly in the world, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly. Females can reach a wingspan of 12.2 inches, and they are found only in one little province of Papua New Guinea. The Queen Alexandra is fairly common in that little area of the world, but is somewhat stressed by its habitat being encroached upon by oil palm plantations. Certainly, man has had an impact on the butterfly’s habitat reduction, but the greatest destruction of it's habitat came in the 1950's with the eruption of Mount Lamington. The Queen Alexandra isn’t that easy to catch without damaging it, and because collectors will spend enormous sums of money for a black market specimen, most are raised from larvae or pupae.
As it turns out, Dr. Art Evans knew the principles and places in this story very well, as the chase began at The Bug Fair, an annual event at the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles County, an institution and event with which Art was closely associated during the nineties. You can hear the full conversation between Jessica Speart and our resident Bug Man below. And listen for What’s Bugging You Tuesday mornings at 8:35 on WCVE-Public Radio.