For the Mikey/Elia birthday we bought butterfly nets with real! live! butterfly! larvae!
I thought this was a good idea, you know, science, learning, good for the brain, connect with nature and all that, but have you seen butterfly larvae? Yuck.
Double yuck when they are in their little plastic tub contentedly munching on the beeswax looking stuff on the bottom and dropping copious amounts of beeswax looking pellets of poo. Those spiny little worms (caterpillars, Mom, Elia inserts with an eye roll), started out teeny and grew disturbingly fast. All on my piano in the living room.
Nature is ugly.
But the butterfly larvae happily ate their stuff-in-a-jar, grew big and fat, and did just what they were supposed to do. They built crysalids, a fascinating process, and then they sat there. And sat there. And didn’t move. And sat some more.
Really, it was only about 7 days, but that is a looooong time for a three year old.
We were rewarded though! Our patience, our willingness to beat back the shudders of revulsion and not drop the whole thing in a trash can just so I could get it out of the living room paid off! We had butterflies!
The literature warned us that not all the butterflies would emerge from their crisalids, but all of ours did! An example of fine parenting on our part, I like to believe. Did you know when they emerge that a red, blood like substance sometimes drips down the side of the netting? It’s not blood, it’s meconioum. Even in such beauty, nature is gross.
Our butterflies emerged! We gathered hyacinths in vases, we put paper towels drenched in a sugar water solution. We managed to keep all the butterflies alive until the outdoor temperatures hovered above fifty five. Well, we managed to keep almost all the butterflies alive.
When we unzipped the netting to release all our Painted Ladies, we found one floating in the water of one of the hyacinths. It must have been in there overnight. It wasn’t fighting, it wasn’t moving. Our first casualty.
I removed the flowers from the net and helped Del and Elia set them free while keeping a watchful eye on the Mikey, who sometimes likes to bat things out of the sky. I did not need our second casualty to result in the banishment of a brother. Josie fretted over her little dead butterfly the whole time, not able to watch the beauty of the others flying by. After the rest of us watched for a bit, I heard,
“Mom! Look! It’s alive! It’s alive!”
Josie had pulled the floater out of the water and was showing me how it was weakly moving it’s wings. Small signs of life indeed. Upon closer inspection, though, I found that the poor thing had been in the water long enough for it’s back legs to begin to disintegrate. The body looked a little gelatinous. I told Josie that the butterfly was suffering and the kindest thing to do would be to place it on the ground and step on it. *GASP*
Not the right thing to say.
So we delicately placed the wounded butterfly on a hyacinth. We watched it weakly flutter it’s wings and we prayed that it would get strong and fly away in the night. The butterfly was gone in the morning. I couldn’t tell you for sure what happened to it, I have my suspicions (no I did not go out and squish it, I’m not THAT mean!) but Josie insists that it got strong and flew off to warmer gardens.
And that’s my Josie.
And lest you think that everything around these parts is all maudlin sentimentality, I leave you with my favorite butterfly picture EVER. Drawn by the Elia when she was just a few years old. I’ve featured it on this blog before, but thought it was due for another round. The beauty and sentiment in this simple drawing continues to amaze and delight. I hope you enjoy it just as much as we do.
Are you ready?