The tulip and the butterfly
Appear in gayer coats than I:
Let me be dressed fine as I will,
Flies, worms, and flowers exceed me still.
Whether it be in the flowers, flies, or worms (a butterfly is a flying worm), we see glimmers of a wonderful world that once was.
1. Birdwing, Ornithoptera sp., butterflies
I aspire to be an Aurelian (English butterfly enthusiast extrodinaire). For me, this aspiration began at an early age. I remember the first time time I looked through the butterfly portal into Eden. Here is that story.
I am eight or nine years old and I have a butterfly net in my hands! The air is charged with the smell of lilacs. It's cloudy and cool and the only thing I see is the most elegant, huge, yellow and black swallowtail sipping nectar about 10 feet in front me. I am thunderstruck, absolutely scared witless, that it will leave its nectary and fly out of my reach. I am so excited that I am unable to lift my .5 lb net. Slowly, I move within range and raise my net above my head. Then....swack! I swing with all my might and look frantically at my net (collectors understand that certain prize butterflies make you swing erratically). Even before I can look down at the net, the sound of flapping wings fills my ears and an even more intense smell of butterfly bush. My eyes are greeted with a bulging net containing a flapping Eastern Tiger Swallowtail amidst myriad lilac blossoms. Oh what ecstasy! I am brimming over with excitement. I have captured the butterfly that captured my imagination! It is perfect in every way. It is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus Linnaeus.
2. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Alfred Russell Wallace embodies the experience I had when I was child, but only better. He was in the South Pacific and walking through the jungle when he saw a Birdwing (Ornithoptera) for the first time. I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through his head upon seeing that butterfly that is so big it bears the name bird. This giant Lepidopteran is stunningly beautiful with iridescent wings. Wallace and I found that Lepidoptera really are spellbinding. Collecting butterflies allowed their spell to last all year. Long after fall's last leaf had fallen and winter's snow had piled above the grass (an exceptional event in Nasvhille, Tennessee), I would be pinning, labeling, and musing about butterflies. Susan Sontag said it very well, "To collect is to rescue things, valuable things from neglect, from oblivion, or simply from the ignoble destiny of being in someone else's collection rather than one's own."
3. Alfred Russel Wallace chasing a Birdwing butterfly
Besides their spellbinding beauty, butterflies are extremely diverse! There are an estimated 20,000 species of butterflies in the world and ten times that number of moths. My personal favorite within the butterfly world is the family Lycaenidae or Gossamer-winged butterflies. These are small but flashy little creatures that are as charming as they are delicate.
4. Macleay collection of Lycaenidae butterflies
Butterflies reflect every color of the visible spectrum and some of the ultraviolet spectrum as well. Their color is the result of pigments and structure. For example, Morpho butterfly scales trap light with the structure of their scales resulting in iridescence. Butterflies, aside from sometimes eating our food as caterpillars, essentially serve no function. Unless, if your like me, and consider being beautiful and inspirational a service. In fact, in a world that tends to move towards gray, darkness and uniformity, butterflies stand firmly apart. Their bold colors reflect the light and dispel the drab. They remind us that God makes things beautiful from the littlest to the biggest things. Their lifecycle (caterpillar - old man, chrysalis (death), and butterfly (new life)) can even be a symbol of the Gospel (God's spell).
5. Colias without and with UV light