August 15, 2008
On a summer afternoon at Red-haired Sister and Tie-dye Brother-in-law's, you can find all kinds of creatures, mostly running around in bathing suits and leaping into the pool, some of them barking like crazy. But inside a small tent, hanging quietly from the mesh, are some of the quietest but most spectacular creatures in the household: monarch butterflies.
The monarchs begin as tiny eggs clinging to the underside of milkweed plants. Then they hatch into caterpillars which eat the milkweed like crazy. The caterpillars pupate into these beautiful little cocoon things that hang from the sides of the tent. Eventually, a butterfly emerges from each chrysalis, flapping his or her wings until the wings are dry.
Then at some point, the butterflies mate like crazy. Yes, butterflies have sex. I guess I should have known that, but I'd never thought about it. I never actually pictured them having sex. Now of course, I can.
The monarch caterpillars are truly picky eaters. Milkweed is pretty much all they eat. And contrary to what your mother might have told you, being a picky eater isn't so bad. All that milkweed apparently makes monarchs taste bad to predators. I guess once you've eaten a monarch, you gag and swear off them for life.
While I was visiting Red-haired Sister, she would pick elaborate bouquets of flowers to put in with the butterflies. And she knew pretty much where every patch of milkweed in the county was. We'd be driving to the grocery store and she'd head down a side road, "Hey, I just need to pick some milkweed for the butterflies."
One morning, when she had pulled the vases of flowers and milkweeds out of the little mesh tent to add water and such, I folded myself up as small as I could and crawled into the tent. Inches from my face, the monarchs flapped their orange and black wings. One landed on my knee, a strange ticklish feeling, and another on my bare toes. The newest one was still flapping her wet wings, flying sluggishly because they weren't yet dry. Others hung quietly, unfolding with flashes of color whenever I moved. As I sat there watching, I couldn't help but feel envious of those bright and fragile wings.
Posted by jo(e)