Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Prose - The Mourning Cloak Butterfly

For years, as the snows melted, the crocus and purple hyacinths would appear, the ornamentals and fruit trees would bloom, sometimes impossible to hold their bursts of energy before one more snow would fall. The tulips would begin their reign, promising spring, even if they were peeking above snow.
The sign I counted on the most, that, yes, spring had truly arrived, was the appearance of the mourning cloak butterfly. The Nymphalis antiopa, as its known in higher circles, has also been called grand surprise or white petticoat. This velvety black butterfly with its two-inch wingspan has a bright yellow band lining the entire edge of its jagged wings, with a row of iridescent blue spots just inside the showing petticoat. A true beauty you wanted to follow around as long as you could. There would be many, promising an abundant spring.
The past springs have been absent of mourning cloaks, or maybe only one or two will appear. Where have they all gone? This is one butterfly that overwinters as an adult, having a greatly extended life span, up to ten to eleven months, the longest span of any North American butterfly. They secrete a natural anti-freeze, such as sorbitol, into their bodies to survive the winters as adults. Maybe they are coming before the flowers bloom, holding their nutrients from them, leaving them no choice but to get their nutrients from horse droppings. I keep looking, wondering what to use as my gauge, as global warming has us all confused.

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