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Archive for the ‘monarch butterfly’ Category

Sometimes green means stop, look, and pay attention.

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Productivity.  A word that has long enjoyed favored status in U.S. culture. Americans are always trying to do more work in less time so we can… do even more work. We purchase time-saving apps and appliances and then fill the promised free-time that closed the deal with new projects and expectations.
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As the saying goes, when you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. Of course, that assume you stop the work of pounding away occasionally to look around.
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I aspire to a zen “be here now” life but most days I miss the mark by a wide margin. Instead, I hammer down each nail on my to-do list, usually thinking about the next task or the one after that before completing the current one (and often ending up with a swollen thumb as a result). Yesterday was no exception.
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Until, suddenly, it was.
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Exiting my car with plastic shopping bag handles queued up along my forearms I charged down the sidewalk, mental blinders on, jaw set. Still, I did notice the row of tall limelight hydrangeas that hug my red brick building slouching beneath their load of heavy, fragrant, pale chartreuse blooms buzzing with activity.  “Honey bees,” I assumed dismissively, since a nearby restaurant keeps several hives, and continued on without breaking my stride.
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Then I was blinded by the light of a sunbeam reflecting off an iridescent copper-green carapace.
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I stopped in my tracks, oblivious to the increasing numbness in my hands, and watched one green June beetle (Cotinis nitida), then several more, stumble drunkenly around and through the blossoms. Glancing at other blooms I saw all kinds of colorful insects had shown up for the banquet, including other beetles and bees, butterflies, moths, flies, spiders, and wasps.  The realization that I was, yet again, missing my life for the sake productivity hit me over the head like a ball-peen.
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Time to take a deep breath and smell the hydrangeas. I rushed inside, left my groceries in a heap on the kitchen table, hurried back downstairs, out the door…
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and…
             slowed…
                                 waaaaay…
                                                          down.
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I spent the next hour losing track of time while I conducted an informal census of bug life in the flower gardens around my building and neighborhood. My goal was enjoyment, not identification. Eyes opened wide. Really seeing.
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composite greens
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red-orange-yellow composite
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purple composite
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bright composite
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How easy it is to forget that being unproductive is sometimes the most important work of all.
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love-earthThis blog, like so many activities that foster support and appreciation of the natural world, is a labor of love. If you’ve enjoyed learning about the creatures who share our built environment, consider becoming an NDN Benefactor with a donation of any amount you’re inspired to give. If you’d like to find a little Next-Door Nature surprise in your inbox just click the Subscribe!  button in the upper right-hand corner of this page and receive notifications of new posts — and please share this post with others!
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© 2015 Next-Door Nature—no reprints without written permission from the author (I’d love for you to share my work  but please ask). Green June beetle photo by the author (CCL).  Thanks to these photographers for making their work available on Flickr through a Creative Commons license: Jon K.;  Bill Bumgarner; Shellie Gonzalez; Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren; doni19; Vincent Parsons; Photoguyinmo Swatzell; Dave Thomas; and USFWSmidwest.

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monarch caterpillar

Monarch butterflies go through many changes in during their short lives (Photo: Vicki DeLoach, Creative Commons license)

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This week’s focus on the holidays of two major religions, not to mention some events in my own life, had me thinking about endings that actually turn out to be the start of something new and unexpected. My spiritual vocabulary is more deeply rooted in the biological than the Biblical, so when I think of metamorphosis and renewal, I think of Lepidoptera.

monarch eggButterflies and moths are the very model of adaptation, moving through many transformations during the course of their lives.  These shape-shifters begin life as an egg. With the possible exception of avid gardeners, most of us don’t often see, or at least notice, this stage. Once they emerge as caterpillars though, their bright colors, wild patterns, and wavy gait are eye-catching, as are the web-tents spun by certain species shortly after they hatch. Moth caterpillars are usually fuzzy, so if you find one that’s smooth, you’ve probably got a future butterfly on your hands.

io moth caterpillarAnd speaking of hands… before you start picking up caterpillars, you should know that some of them sting. Their fuzz includes hollow quills connected to poison sacs; when touched, reactions can range from mild itchiness to severe pain, dermatitis, or even more systemic problems.  I’m speaking from personal experience here, and this is a rather embarrassing confession. It’s no secret that most wild creatures try to blend into their surroundings, so when you see a brightly colored, very conspicuous animal, there’s a good chance it has a more than adequate defense system. A wildlife biologist, of all people, should know that. I do, and I did. But I had never seen a Io moth caterpillar before and wanted a closer look. My curiosity got the better of me and I let down my guard. Only after I had allowed it to crawl onto my hand did I begin to think, “Hmmm… probably not a good idea.”  Good ol’ hindsight… always there just after you need it.

But I digress.

monarch chrysalis

Caterpillars continue their quick-change artist life with five molts, called instars, during which they wriggle out of their too-tight skin. Finally, they find a place to hang out for a while and a different kind of skin, called a chrysalis, forms. Moth caterpillars usually prefer the added protection of a silken cocoon.

monarch chrysalisInside the chrysalis/cocoon, a radical transformation takes place, something miraculous, even when you realize it can all be explained biologically. A death, of sorts, that must take place for something new to be born. A leap of faith. Does the caterpillar know, somewhere deep down in its DNA, that there’s more to life than being an earth-bound eating machine? Do caterpillars dream of life on the wing?

just emerged monarchNow that I’m in my 50s, I’m starting to realize I’ve got quite a lot in common with Lepidoptera. I’ve experienced my own series of instars, breaking out of old skins when they became too restrictive and claustrophobic. And there have been times spent in the cocoon as well, wondering what, if anything, lies ahead, and how much longer I’ll have to wait to find out. Life, after all, is about taking chances… letting curiosity, excitement, optimism and wonder take the lead over caution, even if that means sometimes you get stung. I haven’t yet managed to escape the law of gravity, but I’m still dreaming of flight.

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© 2011 Next-Door Nature— no reprints without written permission from the author. Thanks to the following individuals for making their photos available for use under a Creative Commons license: Eric Heupel (monarch egg), Sarowen (Io moth caterpillar), Sid Mosdell (chrysalis photos), Rob Ellis (emerging monarch), and Rob and Jane Kirkland (just emerged monarch).

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