The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.

Butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, worms, starfish, mussels, and crabs are but a few of the millions of invertebrates at the heart of a healthy environment. Invertebrates build the stunning coral reefs of our oceans; they are essential to the reproduction of most flowering plants, including many fruits, vegetables, and nuts; and they are food for birds, fish, and other animals. Yet invertebrate populations are often imperiled by human activities and rarely accounted for in mainstream conservation.

The Society uses advocacy, education, and applied research to defend invertebrates.

Over the past three decades, we have protected endangered species and their habitats, produced ground-breaking publications on insect conservation, trained thousands of farmers and land managers to protect and manage habitat, and raised awareness about the invertebrates of forests, prairies, deserts, and oceans.

Our Story

By Robert Michael Pyle

How did the Xerces Society come to be? I hear that question almost as often as I read apocryphal versions of the answer. Therefore it seems appropriate to record the official account of the birth of Xerces for the archives and for the curious reader.

In 1971-72, I had the good and surprising fortune to be the recipient of a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship for study of insect conservation in England. The environmentally sensitive public mood following the first Earth Day made this a reasonable proposition, I suppose, to the government; and John Heath’s offer of a place to study at the Monks Wood Experimental Station, epicenter of insect conservation activity, made it possible.

I cannot begin to describe here that marvelous year of learning among scientists of Monks Wood. Fully six public servants were engaged more or less full-time in research pertaining to rare invertebrate conservation at this famous British field laboratory. Many others participated on a greater or lesser basis. Based in the Biological Records Center, where the great British fauna and flora distribution maps were developed, my supervisor was John Heath. My other primary mentors included Michael Morris, Jack Dempster, Jeremy Thomas, Paul Harding, Ernie Pollard, Marny Hall, Michael Skelton, Eric Duffey, Norman Moore, Colin Welch, Michael Way, Max Hooper, Terry Wells, Brian Davis, Mike Schofield, and Kenneth Mellanby, among others – all familiar names to nature conservationists on both sides of the Atlantic. Counting in the British Butterfly Conservation Society, the Joint Committee for the Conservation of British Insects, the country Naturalists’ Trusts, and many other groups involved in insect habitat management, I was surfeited with relevant instruction and example.

However, in November of 1971 I experienced a distressing time of doubt when I wondered what it would all come to. How would we begin to emulate these advanced efforts back home? Little structure and less interest seemed to exist for doing so. In that querulous frame of mind I attended a meeting of the British Entomological and Natural History Society in London on December ninth. Grahame Howarth of the British Museum (Natural History) spoke on the efforts to save the large blue (Maculinea arion) in England. He ably outlined the history of this endangered butterfly which, despite nominal protection for half a century, continued to drop out of reserve after reserve. He concluded on a rather pessimistic note as regards the British large blue, but with an upbeat message: “If we lose our large blues,” he stated, “let us make them a symbol for vigilance, so that we shall never see another British butterfly become extinct if we can help it to survive.”

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Our Work

The Xerces Society works on behalf of threatened, endangered, and at-risk invertebrates and their habitats. From the world’s rarest butterflies, to caddisflies that live solely in one stream, to declining bumble bee populations, the Xerces Society is dedicated to protecting invertebrates and the ecosystems that depend on them.  Our efforts include advocacy, policy, education and outreach, and applied research.