Yesterday I was preparing for the eco-adventure-themed Spring Break camp I’ll be helping lead next week. My favorite assignment in preparation was to check out the Blackjack trail at LLELA, which winds through one of the easternmost outposts of the Cross Timbers ecosystem. It wasn’t just a pleasure hike (although it was delightful; I even disturbed resting deer!). I was there with a mission: discover the places where novice hikers are most likely to get lost, and plan to prepare next week’s young hikers for what to do if they feel lost in the wilderness.
Toward the end of my hike, I found a startlingly brilliant, iridescent orange butterfly on the ground. I didn’t have a camera or my phone with me. Frustrated, knowing I had only my nature journal and my rudimentary sketching skills, I pulled out my permanent pen and began sketching. This is (sort of) what I saw:
Having no camera and no other recording device, I was forced to spend quite a while observing the creature, rather than taking a cursory look and a photograph and moving on. After many moments with open wings, the butterfly surprised me by closing its wings suddenly. It seemed to wobble as if stiff with arthritis, or as if drunken. It couldn’t stand straight. I wondered if I was observing its last sacred moments alive, or if it was just struggling in the 50 degree weather and would be flying fine tomorrow. Its orange, q-tip-like antennae were pressed together as if at attention, taut at not-quite-90 degrees from its body.
After making several sketches, I rushed to my car to find a camera and rushed back. Because of that, I can share these photos with you:
I’m grateful to have had access to a camera, and to be able to share these images with you. But I’m also glad to have been forced to sit down and take a few minutes to observe an animal I rarely pay much attention to. I noticed behaviors and details I wouldn’t have seen if I’d been relying on my “external brain” devices to do all the recording. And I think, when I figure out what kind of butterfly this is, I will remember the species readily because I’ve had a deeper experience simply abiding with it for a time.
The lesson? Sometimes, it’s good to be caught without your camera or digital devices.
So, do you know this butterfly? What about its behavior?
What methods and tools do you use to identify butterflies and other insects?
I’m always grateful for your response, thoughts, and comments.
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