The Butterfly Effect

The term “Butterfly Effect” has its origin in meteorology. But in my own life I have experienced a real “Butterfly Effect”. Read on if you like to know how it happened.

The Butterfly of Lorenz

The meteorologist Edward Lorenz experimented in the sixties with computer models to make weather forecasts. He kept feeding the computer with different sets of atmospheric data (pressure, temperature, wind direction) and the program then calculated the results. One day he had rounded some of the figures and he discovered that very small differences in his starting data could lead to very big differences in the results. This sensitive dependence of starting conditions became known as the butterfly-effect: the wing beat of a butterfly in Europe would cause a tiny turbulence in the atmosphere and within a few days this could result in a big storm in the Caribbean sea.

This is the reason why it is so difficult to make a weather forecast of four or five days. And it is just as difficult to look back. When there is a hurricane somewhere, it is impossible to find out which butterfly on the other side of the ocean is the guilty one.

It is difficult to predict the weather, but also the life of a person is difficult to predict. Small happenings can later have big effects. It’s funny that such a small happening can really be caused by a butterfly.

My Butterfly

In my life a butterfly has played a major role. When I was 16 years old, a child came to our house with a jar in which there was a big butterfly. She asked my father, who was school teacher at the primary school, if he knew the name of this butterfly. My father didn’t know and so he asked me to visit a biologist in our village for more information.


This biologist happened to know a lot about butterflies. He told me it was a hawk moth (Herse convolvuli). He knew many interesting facts about the insect and showed me his collection of hundreds of butterflies and moths. He also taught me how to preserve butterflies and gave me some insect pins and other tools to start a butterfly collection. I had a new hobby.

All this eventually made me decide to study entomology, that I ended up working in tropical agriculture and that in the past 30 years I have lived and worked in 7 different tropical countries (Surinam, Zambia, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Chad, Bangladesh and Thailand). I am the living proof of the "Butterfly Effect" (or perhaps I should call it the “Moth Effect”). If that hawk moth had not been caught, my life would have been completely different.

Preserving butterflies
Windepijlstaart (Herse convolvuli)

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