What an artist Mother Nature is – choosing the butterfly’s wings for her canvas of geometric designs. From simple to ornate, colors range from subtle, muted tinges to bold, daring contrasts. Some look like elaborate stained glass creations while others exhibit an exotic, almost-Oriental flavor. Aside from the artistry of their wings, these designs are part of a master strategy to protect the butterfly from its predators through camouflage, mimicry, or a blatant warning of their toxicity or sickening taste.
Like a miniature ballerina, the butterfly pauses, poses and pirouettes on flower blossoms to warm its wings and to drink in the energy-filled nectar that sustains its life. A special symbiotic relationship exists between butterflies and flowers. Each needs the other for its existence and survival: the butterfly for the nutrition and energy of the flower’s nectar; the flowers for the pollination activities of the butterfly to perpetuate the species. The butterfly leaves dainty footprints of pollen on the blossoms as it waltzes from flower to flower.
The first butterflies probably evolved 80 to 100 million years ago from moths, which have thicker, denser bodies. There are an estimated 20,000 species of butterflies in the Lepidoptera family. Although the butterfly appears delicate and fragile, its ability to survive through the years is testimony to its survival strategies and well-designed structure that can withstand strong winds and rain and even long-distance travel.
By the human time clock, butterflies enjoy only a short existence. Much of that time is spent in metamorphosis or transformation from the clumsy caterpillar that is all feet to the beautiful and graceful butterfly. It passes through four distinct states of life in its progression from a tiny egg to the adult form: egg, larva, pupa and butterfly.
Eggs are usually discreetly hidden on the underside of leaves, protecting them from predators and the aggressive gardener who wants a pest-free garden. The eggs soon hatch and become voracious salad surfing caterpillars that can devour everything green in the garden to satisfy their astounding appetites. The word caterpillar comes from two Old English words, cater meaning “glutton” and pillar meaning “to strip” or to plunder as in pillage. Its name perfectly describes fits the pillaging glutton or greedy pillager of the garden. The pupa or chrysalis is the third state in which the future butterfly incubates for a period of time until it is fully developed in to the beautiful butterfly.
Because of its dramatic transformation or metamorphosis, the butterfly has been a symbol of new life and immortality in many cultures for centuries. Ancient Greeks placed golden butterflies in their tombs to accompany the dead to the afterlife. In the Greek and Burmese languages, the word “psyche” means both butterfly and soul. Since early days of Christianity, the butterfly has been a metaphor to symbolize Christ’s resurrection to a renewed and glorified life.
In some cultures, the butterfly is considered an omen of death while in others it is considered the spirit of an ancestor who has comes to visit – like the Aztec culture. It is popular tradition n the US to release butterflies at weddings and funerals as a sign of hope and a new life.
Many cultures have fanciful legends about butterflies. The Papago, a group of Southwestern Indians, tell a story of how the Creator felt sorry for the children of the earth because their destiny was to grow old, weak and inform. So He gathered beautiful colors from all of nature – the blue from the sky; red, orange, purple and white from flowers; yellow from the sun, and green from the leaves on the trees and plants. He placed all the colors in a magical bag, which He gave to the children.
When they opened the bag, beautiful butterflies of all colors flew out, enchanting the children who had never seen such a wondrous sight. These butterflies also had the gift of song and sang beautiful music to delight and amuse the children. However, the songbirds became jealous and complained to the Creator that the butterflies had too many gifts with both their physical beauty and beautiful songs. So the Creator took away the gift of music, and now butterflies fly and flutter in silent beauty.
Legends claim the butterfly’s silence plays an important role in granting wishes. If you want a wish to come true , you must first capture a butterfly. Then whisper your wish to it. Because the butterfly can make no sound, it cannot tell your wish to anyone. You must always release the butterfly to its natural freedom. In gratitude for its release, your wish will be granted!