Inside the Murky World of Butterfly Catchers

For those who capture and trade the delicate insect, the rules are intricate and the prize is mesmerizing.

It can be a treacherous thing, hunting this particular butterfly.

The peacock swallowtail, Papilio blumei, lives only here, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, and only at a certain altitude. Its mountain home is a steep rock covered with a thin layer of wet earth, where every handhold and step sends away a small mudslide. And somewhere along the way, between the valley and the peak, an economy becomes clear: This is why some butterflies are valuable. This is why there’s a black market for the rare ones.

The hunter, a man named Jasmin Zainuddin, stops a moment. He carries a stick that he uses to prod the mud, testing it. “Only a little bit higher,” he says.

Read This Next

First great apes at U.S. zoo receive COVID-19 vaccine made for animals

The priceless primate fossils found in a garbage dump

Buried for 4,000 years, this ancient culture could expand the 'Cradle of Civilization'

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet