Butterflies and Moths.
Moths get a bit of a bad rap for gnashing their way through our clothes and being so dull. But they are only dull in this country. Presumably, to blend in with their environment. Go abroad and moths are a different proposition altogether. Take a look at this Comet Moth native to Madagascar.
The easiest way to tell a moth from a butterfly is by their wings. Moths lay them flat on their backs. Whilst a butterfly’s wings are folded back vertically in the air. This is a Glasswing Butterfly from Central America.
Apart from their obvious beauty, I think one of the reasons I am so fond of the wee beasties is the metamorphosis they have to go through to achieve this extraordinary transformation. I think it is a good metaphor for life.
This ‘little’ beaut is called The Cairns Birdwing and, as you might well imagine, is native to Australia.
While I was sitting outside a café in Nice one summer, I was visited by a Purple Emperor butterfly. It just floated down and landed on my shoulder. Now, I’m sure a lepidopterist could tell me the exact scientific reason for this visitation but, to me, it was nothing short of a miracle.
Slowly, I turned my head to face it. Trying to control my breathing so I wouldn’t frighten it away. Its antennae probed the air between us as it seemed to be regarding me as much as I was regarding it.
I’m not sure how long it stayed. But long enough to inspire me to begin writing a novel called The Music of Butterflies. (Which is still unfinished.)
So, to that little butterfly, and all the others that brighten up our world – I am grateful for your presence.
Here’s a stunning piece of prose written by my friend, and fellow writer, Shane Holohan. It encapsulates perfectly the process of metamorphosis.
By Shane Holohan
Bright white silk in the morning sun, crisscrossed her view, and beyond the thin threads the translucent green reduced, ’til the thick white frame became the picture. Fear filled the closed space. She willed her limbs to tear her free, but they were not listening. Inside she screamed, while outside she busied herself with her own incarceration. He alone felt her pain, and it hurt him to know it could not be otherwise.
He watched as fear became sadness, as sadness became stillness, as stillness became sleep, as sleep slowed heart and stilled breath. But this was no ordinary sleep. They were close now, more one than they’d ever been as their trajectories intersected. His body in hers, still. Her’s round his, silent. Her breath fading then returning in stuttering gasps, and still he waited. He did not know how he would know, just that he would. That when her final breath came, it would be his.
One by one the small things in her let go. Blood slowed to a trickle. Hierarchically her brain functions stopped: movement long gone, emotion soon after, thoughts, dreams, urges without names moved out of the neurons and ganglia that had been their home throughout her long life. Control of even the simplest functions stopped, her heart beat but only because it always had, and her breath swung back and forth only because back led to forth led to back led to forth led to back led to forth, ’til finally, the last tiniest wisp of breath slid almost imperceptibly from her.
He sucked it in, desperately, deeply, his lungs delighting at their first taste of life. The idea of him had preceded him, as had the will in that idea, for without the will the idea had no way to drag itself into this world. And drag it did. Now that it had lungs and heart, and eyes and limbs, the idea of him, the will of him, the shape of him dragged themselves out of the shattered remains of her existence.
Free from her at last, but still caged. The soft walls of his prison beaded with her condensed breath. He smelt her, tasted her and felt her fear. His powerful mandibles attacked the tough silk. Within minutes he had his first glimpse, with his own eyes, of what lay beyond. Greens were greener than he’d ever imagined, and everywhere was damp, glistening, sparkling. High above he caught a glimpse of the bright sky. And it was not just his eyes that were assaulted, the air that now blew through the birth-crypt was awash with smells. So many he couldn’t disentangle them. They assaulted, intoxicated and demanded him. He tore with at the walls of the chrysalis, ’til at last he was free and as he fell his deep blue wings instinctively opened and held him. He hovered there briefly and saw her, or what was left of her, suspended from a mossy branch by the few remaining threads. She faced down toward the dark earth below, as she had throughout her life, a long gash in her back marked his road to this world. She was still, empty, more gone than dead. Her face had a look of calm, perhaps a hint of a smile, though he knew that was just what he wanted to see. A light gust blew through the leaves and tumbled him over, wrapping him in frangipani, rose and jasmine. His wings beat strong against it and he was gone.