Butterfly1compForArticleButterflies are delicate, majestic, and like anything of beauty, arouse your attention, consideration, and appreciation.  I can spend hours watching butterflies as they light upon the vivid array of flowers available in our yard.  Of course, the flowers spikes of our butterfly bush is an irresistible lure , and they gather there by the dozens.  But the cone flower, also known as Echinacea purpurea, is an obvious close second-place as a favorite attraction.  Their primary food source is the nectar of these flowers, and we try to provide them with a smorgasbord to choose from.

These airborne beauties start life as a caterpillar and evolve into a fluttering attraction for all to watch and enjoy.  Unfortunately, many of these beautiful creatures only live two to four weeks.  But, those who migrate, like the monarchs, fly great distance to grace us with their presence and live as long as nine months.

Butterflies use a pair of antennae to sense the air for wind and scents, which assist them in locating the sweet nectar they desire.  They also have compound eyes, providing them a well developed vision, that is most sensitive to the ultraviolet spectrum.  Like bees, the ability to see in this spectrum provides them with a unique view that we, as humans, cannot appreciate.  We look at a flower and see the beauty of the color and texture.  A butterfly sees a pattern, almost like arrows on a landing strip, that leads them directly to the source of pollen and nectar.

Flight is conducted with two pairs of large wings, which are covered with thousands of tiny, overlapping, iridescent scales, that cover a transparent substance called chitin.  The chitin becomes like a painter’s canvass, and the scales reflecting light, like a painter’s palette.  The combination radiates a spectrum of colors, like a stained glass window, which provides the vivid and impressive patterns that we behold.

The fluttering flight of the butterfly appears almost mechanical in nature.  It often appears jerky, spasmodic, and almost labored, yet dignified in its own right  You have to see a butterfly to know it is near.  Pressing against the air under its wings, flight is as silent as the sound of one hand clapping.

Upon locating the host for the nectar it seeks, it steadies itself on six jointed legs.  It then sips on the nectar through a straw-like tube called a proboscis.  Unlike the nervousness of the hummingbird, they look relaxed and content, like sitting on a veranda sipping an afternoon cocktail.  When the meal is complete, the proboscis rolls up into a compact ball, and it is off to the next meal.

Butterflies are a summer treat and adornment that never cease to peak our interest or entertain.  They are magical, and a lovely and pleasurable element of the season.  They are missed when they are gone, and the waiting begins for their return the following year.

Copyright © 2014 by John D. McCann

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