• Stuart Benson

Preserving 'a world that no longer exists'

Brennan’s Hill collector is parting with butterflies, moths

Ever since he was six years old, Brennan’s Hill resident John Urban, now 75, has loved collecting insects – from butterflies to moths, beetles and spiders – in order to preserve the natural artistry and beauty of a world he says no longer exists.

John Urban has been collecting butterflies and moths, and has preserved numerous species, which have since disappeared or become extremely rare. He uses his skills as a jeweler for the delicate work of mounting the insects he has collected so they can be displayed, carefully moving wings, legs and antenna, and setting them into a position they will retain after they dry out. Photo courtesy John Urban

Urban, who moved to Brennan’s Hill in 1991, has hundreds of specimens, including one or two of each species that used to proliferate the Outaouais when he first arrived, but have since become increasingly rare or disappeared from the area all together; many which would only live for up to two weeks and then quickly decompose.

“I could leave my lights on the deck at night or string up a white sheet in the woods and shine a spotlight on it, and I would get so many wonderful things,” Urban explained about his collecting techniques. “It would also depend on where I place the sheet and under what tree.”

For example, one of Urban’s favourite species, the Luna Moth, a species of giant silk moth with lime-green coloured wings, preferred to eat white birch in their caterpillar state. So Urban planted white birch on his property in order to help catch a glimpse of this rarely seen insect due to its seven to 10 day life-cycle. Urban also has a number of birdwing butterflies, which have become increasingly rare due to deforestation.

“My collection represents a world that no longer exists,” Urban said.

He added that, by way of comparison, “there is more artistic merit on the wings of these insects than all of the walls of the National Gallery [of Canada].”

Unfortunately, Urban had to stop adding to his collection as he has simply run out of room in the filing cabinets where he stores the insects inside wood and glass case boxes when they aren’t displayed on his walls.

“At 75, and downsizing, I’ve decided it’s time to find a new home, or homes, for my collection,” Urban explained. “Ideally, I’d like to part with the collection as a whole.”

Urban said his entire collection is valued at $12,500, with some cases containing the insects worth between $500 and $1,000 dollars, although he said he’d be willing to give a potential buyer a significant discount for taking the whole collection.

“I’ve been in contact with the [Canadian] Museum of Nature and other large collections in the area,” Urban added, “but the museum is only interested in birdwings and beetles.”

For interested buyers, Urban said that you would need plenty of space to store them, away from natural sunlight to preserve the natural colours of many of the moths. He explained that butterflies have evolved to fly in the daytime, but moths have not, which means their colours will fade in the daylight. He added that buyers will need to pin mothballs in the corner of the cases to prevent infestations of larder beetles, which have been known to consume and ruin entire museum collections.

If you would like to contact Urban about his collection, you can email queries to jurban@jurbanrings.com.

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