Ask Umbra: Is it cruel to kill insects?
Send your question to Umbra!
Q. Dear Umbra,
I defer to your sage advice in many matters and often wonder at the minutiae laid at your feet. How silly to agonize over bra stuffing when climate change is poised to make my home here in Florida the next Atlantis. However, here I am, agonizing over the small: I love insects. They are resilient, organized, fascinating, beautiful — and I want to wear them. I’ve been looking at stunning butterfly wing jewelry and I just have to have it. But I don’t wear fur or feathers on the grounds that the creatures may have been treated badly. Is it hypocritical to not extend this ethic to insects? Or by showcasing the beauty of bugs can I help others see their value and importance?
A. Dearest Anastasia,
In one sense, you’re absolutely right that it’s silly to fret over the little things. But it’s also a bit comforting, isn’t it? One can lose plenty of sleep over climate change, but the problem remains unsolved the next day. Put enough energy into your butterfly-wing dilemma, though, or any of a thousand other tiny problems, and sooner or later you will decide upon a course of action you can feel good about. Sometimes it’s nice to feel that we have some control in our lives, that we can solve problems and change habits and make the tiniest ripple in the world. It’s just the over-fretting we need to be careful about. We mustn’t tie ourselves in knots.
As for the insect-ethics question, I am very interested to know what your fellow readers think. You probably know that many vegans avoid insect-originating products such as silk and honey. But how far should this careful consideration extend? I have used high-falutin’ technology to create a poll:
Of course, there is a difference between being kind to butterflies, which I think we can all agree is a fairly reasonable goal, and being kind to termites, mosquitoes, and other bugs that truly “bug.” Or is there? Oh my, another poll has appeared!
My, my, you readers are certainly opinionated today. I do want to remind those of you who pursue exterminative routes that the chemicals that are good at killing bugs can also harm humans. Please look into non-toxic pest control.
Anastasia, I am slowly getting around to your actual question, about your lust for Lepidoptera. The fact is, there does exist jewelry made from “cruelty-free butterfly wings.” I cannot vouch for this sector, but you could try to learn more about it, and see whether the notion of wings plucked from already-dead butterflies sits easier than the image of a butterfly writhing in a tiny torture device.
However, if you really want to help others see the value and importance of butterflies — and with an estimated 15,000 species flitting about the world, there’s plenty to learn — I’m not sure wearing dead ones as decoration is going to get the job done. Why not volunteer at the Florida Botanical Gardens butterfly garden, or plan some events for Butterfly Education and Awareness Day this June, or organize a butterfly-kite festival, or form a book club and make the first selection Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.
Whatever you do, hang on to your appreciation for small wonders. Sometimes that’s all that gets us through the day.
Get Grist in your inbox