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My Interest in Butterflies - Livin' the Good Life

Mar. 11th, 2008

09:25 am - My Interest in Butterflies

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Our home on Adelaide Drive was bordered by Verdugo Blvd, and on the other side of Verdugo there rose a sprawling mountain range. Due to the dense foliage that naturally grew on those mountains, we had a wonderful variety of butterflies hatching every year. My dad had been a butterfly collector as a child, and he taught me to be one, too. At first, I was horrified that I would have to kill a butterfly. But, my dad told me that there were plenty of them, and I only needed to kill ONE of each species. (Actually, TWO. One to display the top of the wings and one to show the underside of the wings. The underside was often very different from the top.) Also, butterflies only live for about 10 days (or less, if they get eaten by a bird). So, I reluctantly learned how to catch butterflies with my net, spray them with a substance that killed instantly, spread it out very c a r e f u l l y so as not to damage its wings, and pin it to a board. Then I'd label it. I had about 20 varieties. I enjoyed looking at my butterflies and educating my friends about them. I much prefered looking at butterflies flitting about in the wild, though. But, I had to admit that it was difficult to examine them, because they were such elusive, fluttery things that they were never in one place long enough to get a good look. So, for the most part, if I wanted to study them in detail, I would look at my collection. If I wanted to just enjoy their essence and beauty in action, I went outside and waited. It wouldn't be long before I'd spot one. The most common butterfly in our neighborhood was called a Checkerspot. It was basically black, medium-sized, with alternating rows of red and white spots along its wing spread. They would rise up in clouds from the bushes that they were feeding on in the spring. They would smash all over our car windows when we were driving. I'm not kidding when I say they were ABUNDANT! Now they are on the Endangered Species List and are apparently only found in the San Francisco area. We also had lots of Cabbage butterflies. They had roundish, white wings with one little black spot on their wing-tips and a bit of black edging. They were everywhere then, and I even have them in my backyard here in the desert. (The most common butterfly in my backyard today is the Painted-Lady, a pretty, reddish-brown-with-black-and-white-splotches, nervous-type, that won't stay in one place for more than a second or two.) There were also Bluey butterflies all around my childhood home which were tiny, delicate, and sky-blue. They were hard to mount because they were so fragile. Monarchs were common. They were large and orangey-gold with black lines and edges. My very favorite was the never-in-a-hurry Mourning Cloak. It was slightly furry, brownish-black, and its wings looked like they were made out of velvet. The wings had a bright yellow edging and next to that were sky-blue dots. These butterflies were slow-moving, gently fluttering from one plant to the next. They lived longer than any other butterfly (10 months) and consequently, by the end of the season, their wings often looked worn and almost see-through. It was exciting to see a newly-hatched Mourning Cloak because they were so rich and dark and velvety and beautiful. They were noted for being "tame". If you held your finger out, they would sometimes land on it. As a child, it was thrilling to have a butterfly single me out and land on me. I considered them my friends. One of the advantages of a collection is that you can get all newly-hatched specimens while they still have their brilliant colors. By the end of a week they are starting to fade in color and their wings are beginning to tatter. If they make it to 10 days, they don't look so good anymore. My dad says that wherever there are lots of butterflies, the environment is healthy. But, due to heavy development of areas that were previously butterfly habitat, butterflies are disappearing. I occasionally see butterflies in my backyard, but it used to be that they were everywhere in abundance. I think we all need to encourage butterflies by planting things they like to eat and lay their eggs on. Having a "butterfly garden" is a deliberate way of preserving these creatures and the pleasure and beauty they bring us.