This Ridiculous True Butterfly Crime Story Gets Weirder and Weirder

Image: PJC&Co/Wikimedia Commons
Image: PJC&Co/Wikimedia Commons

Hey England. You’ve got some beautiful rare butterflies, huh? It would be a real shame if some of them... went missing.

The UK’s currently witnessing what I’d call the trial of the century, for the gravest of crimes: butterfly murder. Ex-body builder Phillip Cullen is being accused of taking specimens of the large blue butterfly, the United Kingdom’s “rarest butterfly,” according to the Guardian.

Cullen’s a broad-chested muscular guy with a full head of brown and white hair and a gold earring—not the first bloake who’d come to mind when you think about a butterfly preserve. But back in June of 2015, someone claimed to have spotted him, climbing a padlocked gate into a nature preserve in Gloucestershire. They didn’t say he was frolicking exactly, but... chasing a large blue butterfly, wielding what looked like a child’s shrimping net, as his friend peed on a tree.


In other words, he and his friend likely looked a lot like this:

I am literally sitting at jury duty waiting for my number to be called as we speak begging the higher powers that I get to sit on a case like this one.

But why would someone commit such a heinous act? The Guardian explains:

...Magistrates were told the large blue became extinct [in the British Isles] in the 1970s and has been reintroduced to a few sites. The panel heard there was a market for large blues, which sell for up to £300 a butterfly when they are mounted and made to look like Victorian specimens.


In other words, he was just trying to make and sell some art—some illegal art. Police also found a pair of specimens at Cullen’s home.

The large blue is actually an inch or two in wingspan and currently listed as near-threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list. They’ve has been reintroduced to the UK, and typically live in open grasslands, and require wild thyme for their babies to eat, and Myrmica ants, in whose nests large blues turn into pupae and butterflies, according to a paper by University of Bristol researcher John Muggleton. What an incredible name.


And though the butterfly’s numbers have increased since being reintroduced in the ‘70s, a 2010 and a 1997 law prevent their capture and sale. Cullen received six charges for the offense, according to another Guardian story.

So, British butterfly hunters, don’t go taking threatened specimens no matter how beautiful or rare they may look. Otherwise, prepare to face the child’s-sized shrimping net of the law.


[The Guardian]

Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds

Share This Story

Get our newsletter



Inmate #1 - What you in for?

Philip Cullen - Butterfly theft.

Inmate #1 - Are you fucking kidding me?

The again, I personally knew a guy who got 5 years in Federal prison for walking into a federal building with a joint in his pocket.

I’d imagine it would be hard to be taken seriously for something like that.