A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Sentenced to Death

In previous posts I documented the successful growth and transformation of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  I witnessed the egg being laid, the caterpillar mature, and the chrysalis form.  I knew that this particular individual would more than likely be the one to overwinter as a chrysalis to emerge next spring as an adult butterfly.  Everything was going according to schedule.  The chrysalis hung in my back yard frozen in time within a small aquarium.  There had been several frosts but not a hard frost yet.  All the flowers, even the sedums, had stopped blooming.  The seasons had changed.

This year was different.  We had the latest hard frost in 47 years and a very mild October.  I was beginning to worry about my chrysalis getting the wrong impression, my suspicions were correct.   On a mild Sunday in October my butterfly emerged, six months ahead of schedule.  It was destined to die.  The abundant flowers had withered, the leaves had fallen and autumn had a transitional grip on the environment.

The butterfly had been given early parole from it’s chrysalis tomb.  This parole, ironically, is also it’s death sentence.

I did not release the butterfly as planned.  It was too cold for it to warm up its wings.  Instead I kept it in the aquarium where it was raised.  I fed it a steady diet of sugar water, of which I never saw it actually consume.

I think this butterfly knew that it was too early,  something in its genes or instinct told it that it had made a mistake.  It’s mistake gave me an unusual opportunity to document it’s short life as an adult.

The small pot of marigolds on my deck served as a jungle gym of sorts for the butterfly.  The temperature was too cold to fly but not cold enough to kill, this is the world it emerged into.

Notice the rolled tongue, perfectly coiled away, waiting for the sent of fresh nectar.

After a short three weeks as an adult the butterfly that I had followed since it was an egg on a bit of parsley died.  It was an uneventful death as most are in nature.  It was simply the transfer of energy and matter back into the larger system.  We all must return those atoms and molecules that we only borrow for a time that we call life.  We must ultimately give them back so that they make go on to continue the cycle.

I kept the butterfly and mounted it for my insect collection.  It, for me, is much more than just another specimen.  It is the insect that I got to know.



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