Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Buttercup, the Gulf Fritillary

I pulled up a link on the Gulf Fritillary and Alexander exclaimed, "Mom! You did it! You 'dentifieded Buttercup!" 

'Dentifying things is a very important pastime in our house and it's true—today we 'dentified the Gulf Fritillary. We were at the pool today, chilling without a care in the world because we took a (much-needed) break from our studies, and the little ones had decided they were about ready to go home so I'd wrapped them all up in towels and sat them in the sun to warm up, but the bigger ones weren't quite ready to leave so I gave them fifteen minutes. Rachel and Miriam were playing a game with a ball and the ball went onto the deck so Miriam hopped out to grab it and when she did...a Gulf Fritillary lit on her dripping wet shorts and refused to get off.

She wiggled and waggled, but that butterfly was determined to maintain its footing.

Miriam felt a little bit trapped, so I eventually came over and coaxed it onto my finger.

It was a beautiful specimen—bright orange with silver-white spots shimmering in the sunlight. Alexander immediately christened it "Buttercup" and for whatever reason Buttercup didn't want to leave us. We noticed that Buttercup only had four legs left, evidence, we presumed, of a hard life (Benjamin exclaimed, "Now it can only taste two-thirds as well as it's supposed to!"), but its wings seemed to be in good condition. 

Our assumptions about Buttercup's legs, however, were completely wrong! According to our 'dentifying website, "Gulf Fritillaries are called brush-footed butterflies because their first pair of legs are modified into brushes. The female butterfly uses these brushes to scrape plant leaves and taste plant chemicals." Evidently this isn't all that uncommon. Monarchs also "look like they only have four legs because the two front legs are tiny and curl up next to the thorax." It seems like any butterfly within the family Nymphalidae does the same. So that's news to me.

So if this sweet butterfly wasn't injured I'm really not sure why it chose to spend its afternoon with us. It just went from hand to hand to eager little hand. Alexander's hands were the hands we were most worried about but he was very gentle (we didn't ever touch its wings).

Here's Zoë taking a turn with Buttercup:

Here's Benjamin taking a turn:

And all the little hands vying for a turn:

The big girls popped out of the pool for a quick picture with Buttercup and then we headed home...with Buttercup because Buttercup still wouldn't leave us. Every time we tried to put it down it would flit back on to one of us, so Miriam held it on her finger the whole drive home.

(Quick pictures of Rachel and me with butterfly):

When we got home Miriam passed the butterfly to Zoë who was going to hold onto it while I made up a quick little butterfly enclosure. We thought we'd keep our friend around for observations this afternoon, feed it some lovely nectar, and so forth, but while I was gathering supplies the butterfly climbed up Zoë's arm, sat on her shoulder, and then flew off and landed on the roof. 

There were tears, but I explained that really wildlife is best left in the wild, so it was fun to visit with our friend Buttercup for a little while, but it's better for Buttercup to be in the wild.

She and Benjamin were sad that they won't be able to add Buttercup to their dead bug collections. They fought the whole way home from the pool over who should be allowed to have Buttercup once Buttercup...expired. 

Fly free, Buttercup!

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