Because they are so delicate and beautiful butterflies are among the most loved insects in the world. The larger and more colorful species of butterflies catch our eyes when we walk outside in warm weather. Butterflies are so beloved that many people plant butterfly gardens, filled with the flowers these insects depend on for nectar. Public parks that use plantings to attract butterflies attract many visitors hoping to snap a photograph. We tend to know less about the smaller, less flashy types of butterflies though.
All butterflies begin life as caterpillars who eat vegetation and then build a chrysalis, a cocoon in which they transform into butterflies. Some butterflies may only live in their adult forms for a few days, just long enough to mate and lay eggs. Others live for months. Butterflies aren’t just beautiful; they are important pollinators for fruits and vegetables during their relatively short lives.
Butterflies are more complex and intelligent than most people realize. Recently scientists discovered that butterflies afflicted with parasites lay their eggs on plants that contain a chemical which kills those parasites. Once the eggs hatch the caterpillars begin eating the medicinal plant and cure themselves of the parasite. Butterflies who don’t have the parasite tend to lay their eggs on non-medicinal plants, as if they know their offspring don’t need it.
Some butterflies, such as Monarch Butterflies migrate over thousands of miles, other butterflies live in one location for their entire lives.
Butterflies have always been important in my life. During my childhood I followed them everywhere, huge swallowtails and tiny fritillaries alike, clutching my worn field guide to identify insects. Occasionally friends brought me broken butterflies hoping I could help them, but the art of repairing their shattered wings was beyond my skills. When my grandfather passed away, in the middle of winter, an out of season yellow sulphur butterfly somehow emerged from a flower arrangement and flew around my house. For two weeks I fed her sugar water from my finger tips until she faded and finally died.
After that I learned that for many cultures butterflies represent rebirth and second chances since caterpillars appear to “die” when they go into their chrysalis, but then they emerge as amazing butterflies. So right after my grandfather died, an animal symbolizing rebirth came into my life.
Currently some species of butterflies are endangered and others are at risk because of loss of habitat, climate change and pollution. Butterflies are sensitive to many pesticides. To help butterflies we need to take better care of our environment by limiting sprawl, protecting habitat, limiting the release of greenhouse gasses, and by encouraging organic farming.