Butterflies should make entomologists (people who study insects) out of all of us in 2021.
Is there any other living creature so universally admired? Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring 2014 Haute Couture collection was entirely inspired by butterflies. The models--the ”Papillons de Paris”--walked the runway in “playful reinterpretations of those winged beauties.”
“Life is a butterfly! So all the collection is that!” Gaultier explained.
Small children are thrilled with the landing of a butterfly on their fingers; brides and grooms borrow butterfly beauty to style their weddings. We love to decorate our homes with butterfly art.
Gaultier is right: we recognize Life itself in these magnificent, delicate creatures. We identify with their transformation. We envy their radical beauty. And we long to own their powers of seduction.
A butterfly begins as a rather vulgar little creepy-crawly: the 6-legged caterpillar.
Caterpillars, who do absolutely nothing but eat (up to 86,000 times their own initial weight), shed their skins 5 times to make way for bigger and bigger bodies. They even shed their faces.
The caterpillars’ stages are referred to as “instars,” far too heavenly a word for such strange little eating machines.
The 5th instar becomes the chrysalis, and that is where the ugly eater, after 10-14 days, emerges as one of the most stunning creatures on Earth.
There can be no doubt that we see ourselves at times as the grotesque caterpillar, toiling away every day. The monotony of the caterpillar’s day and its vulnerability to birds, ants, wasps, and people make its life entirely un-enviable--with the exception of the bizarre gift of leaving its old small selves behind.
Discarding of old useless skin for a better fit; spinning a magical house to hide in; emerging as a new, better, more ravishing self: this is the stuff our fairy tales are made of.
This year, we all ought to see our potential for symbolically undergoing a metamorphosis of caterpillar to butterfly.
Butterflies come in a baffling 17,500 species--over 750 of those in the United States. Their variety, elegance, and ethereal bodies have earned them the nickname, “flying flowers.”
The Painted Lady / Cosmopolitan / Vanessa cardui is the most common; their migrations from North Africa to Britain and Ireland are a remarkable phenomenon.
We human beings die at an average age of 78 years, in the midst of mental and physical decline. The Painted Ladies, who live about a year, die at the height of their beauty.
Groups of people are crowds, mobs, hordes. En masse we perspire and complain. Groups of butterflies are called kaleidoscopes. En masse they soar and delight.
The rarest of the butterflies is the Palos Verdes blue / Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis. While its scientific name is sizable, its body is quite dainty (2.5-3 cm). These angels only live in the Palos Verdes Peninsula in southwest Los Angeles County, California.
Photo Credit: Frank Model, flickr
This past year (2020), conservationists who carefully bred the endangered species, released 1000 of them into their natural habitat in secret locations.
Why secret locations for the endangered Palos Verdes blues? Scarcity fuels desire. Consider the Hermes Birkin Bag. If you’re a Kardashian, you have a closet full. Just about anyone else can’t even get on a waitlist.
From the most common to the rarest, each butterfly is unique and astonishing, as Instagram clearly illustrates we wish we could be.
Butterflies are not shy about their life mission: MATING.
A mate is not easily won; it requires using all the tools Nature has provided: color, scent, competition, dance, and PERSISTENCE.
Human beings have become quite lazy about their mating rituals, swiping and scrolling on dating apps feels like work. We become quickly discouraged--or worse, attract the wrong mate. If we would follow the example of the butterfly mating rituals, we might have better results.
1. Let your style reflect who you really are.
Butterfly colors distinguish male from female and species from each other. Even insects need help finding each other.
2. For gosh sakes, smell good.
Butterflies use scent to communicate. They release chemicals into their environment (pheromones) that trigger a response in a potential mate. Pheromones are essential in human matches, too. Dating apps can’t help you with chemical attraction; we need to be in each other’s presence to determine a connection.
3. Fight for what you want.
Male butterflies send out acoustic pulses or signals individually or in competitive groups (“lekking”). The female picks. Of course.
The right look and winning a competition isn’t enough. The male butterfly must do a little jig. His dance around her, and the release of pheromones as he dances, must impress her enough for her to offer herself up.
5. Don’t give up.
Females routinely first reject the mate they eventually accept. Males will persist, waiting until she’s in the mood.
Having “butterflies” is the metaphor for the stirrings of love in our bodies. The flutter of excitement and passion echoes the flutter of fragile and otherworldly wings.
May 2021 be a year of butterfly-like transformation and beauty for us all, and the butterfly art on our walls, like this exquisite Swallowtail, remind us to be patient in this year's pursuits.