Monday, September 2, 2013


Every year, around the end of August and the beginning of September, I wake up at the crack of dawn and sit shivering in the dew with my camera at the ready. I thought, because we've gotten to that time of year again, I'd share a bit about my love of butterflies.

Butterflies, as you probably know, are insects of the order Lepidoptera. They can be found anywhere from the grassy slopes of snow frosted mountains to the flowers of a cactus. They range from the tiny Barber's Blue with its half inch wingspan to the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing with brown and blue painted wings reaching a foot across or more. Some butterflies, like the Monarch, fly on migrations taking them more than two thousand miles.

With their elegantly colored wings and graceful bodies, butterflies are remarkably beautiful; often depicted in art and mythology. In many cultures butterflies symbolize the soul. In Greek the word for butterfly is ‘psyche’, which means ‘soul’...sound familiar? Yes! That's my username. If you didn't already know, Psyche was a character in a Greek myth which involved Venus, the jealous mother and her son, Cupid, getting nicked by his own arrow and falling in love with you-know-who...
 Butterflies also symbolize rebirth or reawakening because of their peculiar life cycle. Butterflies undergo metamorphosis, which literally means ‘change form’. You might happen to see a leaf with tiny white eggs, glued there by the female. In the due process of time, usually a few weeks, the eggs will hatch and you will not see butterflies climbing out. The next stage of life is the larvae, or caterpillar, which literally means ‘hairy cat’. The caterpillar is jointed, with a set of suction cups front and back for a good grip. If butterflies differ from each other, caterpillars do, too. The Monarchs is very flashy in black and yellow, while the Saddleback caterpillar looks otherworldly, resembling something like a cross between a porcupine and a hotdog topped with relish and ketchup. Once they hatch, the caterpillars begin to eat, starting with their eggshells; then they mow down your garden. Caterpillars are eating machines and spend almost all their time at it. They grow substantially in a very short amount of time, going from almost microscopic to well over an inch depending on the species.  
The final transformation is the most spectacular. As time passes, the chrysalis grows transparent and at last, bursts open, releasing an insect with a pair of damp colorful pads on its back. Fluid is pumped from the butterfly’s abdomen into a network of veins, and slowly the pads turn into a pair of beautiful wings which soon solidify. At last, the butterfly takes flight flashing through the sky like a wayward flower.

A butterfly’s natural purpose in life is not simply to please the eye, but also to pollinate flowers. A butterfly exists almost solely off the nectar found in flowers and in return, the butterfly carries off the means of continuing the flower, pollen. 

The butterfly has puzzled and fascinated every culture on earth, from the Egyptians of 3500 years ago to the present world, and has served as an allegorical subject of literature and art. They take flight in the realms of fantasy and their wing structures are studied for improved aircraft designs. A butterfly is also an often used symbol of spiritual rebirth, seeming to almost perfectly represent man’s journey from a wormlike sinner to a new man, changed by God.

Every summer I watch butterflies undergo their marvelous cycles. This past summer, I saw a clouded yellow and several monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises to grace the world with their beauty. I saw them cling to plant stems or house walls, their jewel-like eyes glowing and feathered wings quivering in the wind.  At last they left me, fluttering away, wings flashing sunlight, and my heart going with them as they coursed the breezes on the front lawn. 


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