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Dare To Share: Butterfly Musings

Aug 17, 2007
Butterflies are insects belonging to one of two families: Hesperioidea or Papilionoidea. They fall into the order Lepidoptera and are closely related to the common moth. In fact, there is even a type of butterfly called The American Butterfly Moth which fits into both categories (depending on who you ask.)

Butterflies are noted first and foremost for their incredible lifecycle process: they begin life as larval caterpillars, cocooning themselves once they reach maturity and beginning a metamorphic transformation that results into the winged, adult form.

The simple grace and erratic movements of butterflies, coupled with the menagerie of colors sported on their wings have enchanted people since the beginning of time. Butterfly hobbyists range from collectors, who preserve the insects in glass cases to admire, to photographers, who add their own artistic, less macabre spin to the hobby, as well as painters and simple watchers. Steven Albaranes is one of the aforementioned butterfly painters. Philip Greenspun, another artistic butterfly enthusiast, maintains a gallery of beautiful photographs online, too.

The name Butterfly comes from the old English term buttorfleoge, but the Germanic word, milchdieb, provides a bit more insight into where the word comes from. Butterflies, it seems, were thought to pilfer diary products. (Milchdieb literally means Milk Thief. Where the idea of milk-stealing butterflies comes from is unknown, but it has also been suggested that butterflies may have gotten their reputation from the way their excrement (vaguely) resembles butter. Clearly, certain medieval scientists needed access to higher quality dairy.

Among the insect races, butterflies are the kings of color: the hundreds of species each possess an individual style of wing, and each specific butterfly has its own personal markings on its wings. The Luna Moth (which, I don't care what anyone says, is a butterfly) soars among the flowers in shades of brilliant green, while the Blue Morpho adds a sharp neon contrast to the plans it subsists on. Common Jezebels are yellow and red, Speckled Woods are a deep amber color, and the Metalmarks of North America are bedecked in wings of black and gold.

It is common knowledge that butterflies eat pollen and drink nectar, but not nearly as many people are aware that these colorful insectsalso eat such unsavories as dung, rotting treebark and fruits, and even the dissolved minerals found in wet sand and dirt. (Starting to think twice about letting one land on you?) Butterflies detect such potential meals with their scent-sensitive antennae, which are actually covered in microscopic burrs that catch scent particles for the butterfly to inspect.

Butterflies have also come to be a dominant, though sometimes cliched force in the world of poetry. The famous Chinese poet Chuang-Tse used butterflies to emphasize the ephemeral nature of existence (and to thoroughly confuse a western audience, to which he was completely oblivious.

The poem in question reads:

I dreamt I was a butterfly. I couldn't tell if I was dreaming.
But when I woke, I was I and not a butterfly.
Was I dreaming that I was the butterfly,
Or was the butterfly dreaming that it was me?

Makes you think, eh?
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