A Passion for Butterflies Never Dies

Brian Patrick got the bug early. An expert on the order Lepidoptera, a large grouping of insects that includes moths and butterflies, he became interested in botany, zoology and maths as a youngster. JOHN EDENS Edens reports.

FIELD WORK: Brian Patrick (left) and Neville Peat in the field.

Author, museum director and entomologist Brian Patrick is a curator, a butterfly hunter, a collector, has discovered at least 200 new species so far and travels everywhere with a net, just in case.

Many scientists will tell you their interest started early on and Brian is no exception.

Growing up in Invercargill, he remembers mapping out his neighbours’ gardens and cataloguing which species of insects lived where.

His parents, a teacher and lawyer, were not exactly thrilled with their son keeping insects under his bed and spending his spare time poring over the contents of bushes and trees.

He says he was thrilled when he eventually catalogued 100 species of butterfly from the family back garden but admits he annoyed the hell out of his mother.

Without books on cataloguing he devised a numbering system, and still has the diaries and notebooks from childhood forays into Invercargill’s insect world.

“It’s a strange thing, where it comes from.

“I have primitive drawings of caterpillars and I always loved maths, I always had numbers and measurements, I love the data side.

“I was a kid with no money but passion.”

He started his working life as an accountant – he convinced his employer he could tackle the books – before landing jobs with the Department of Conservation and Otago Museum and following a lifelong interest in the natural world.

In a back room of the Central Stories Museum in Alexandra sits a collection of moths, butterflies, diaries, scrapbooks and research papers – the spillover from the Patrick family home.

Brian catalogues everything; he can tell which species of butterfly were collected where during a trip to Australia – one of 20 overseas expeditions so far – in 1987.

He can tell you the number of field trips he has been on – 3046 – and the number of days spent in Australia – it’s 99.

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