Last week, I got a new pet. Two actually. We had just returned from Disney World and I was craving some real food after my 100% funnel cake diet. I got right down to cooking.
Suddenly, something was casting large fluttery shadows over my workspace. I looked up and saw what appeared to be a giant moth circling the kitchen lights. I did my best to ignore it, but it was very distracting. A few minutes later, a second one joined in, just as large, flapping away. WTF? Did the pantry moths supersize in my absence? Did they finally locate the wholesale basmati rice? I was a little annoyed, but eventually they got bored with those lights and moved on to other lights in different rooms that perhaps seemed brighter. Out of sight, out of mind. I forgot all about them.
The next day around lunchtime, the 10YO found one of the insects under the kitchen table. A search party was assembled and the other one was found in the dining room. Upon closer inspection, they turned out not to be moths at all but cabbage white butterflies. (Butterflies tend to hold their wings up at rest while moths either sit with wings flat or angled down. Examples: moth, moth, butterfly.) Their wings were cream-colored on the tops, yellow on the undersides. One of them had two black spots on each wing while the other had only one, so it was easy to tell them apart. We dubbed them Callie and Dan.
The day before had been unseasonably warm, but then the temperature plummeted. To set them free outside would have spelled instant death. Would it be more or less humane to have them bide their time in an unnatural, albeit much warmer, environment with a bunch of noisy giants? I wasn't sure, but I couldn't send them to their icy doom. I also couldn't have them flapping around while I was trying to cook, or getting underfoot, so we pulled out the kids' little screened-in bug house. The boys outfitted the habitat with sticks and leaves from outside.
Butterflies normally sip flower nectar through their straw-like proboscis, but, in the absence of flowers, I figured fruit juice was the next best thing. I put a little apple cider on my finger and tried to coax them to eat a little. To my surprise, they did, each unfurling its proboscis to take a few sips. I did this several times a day. Despite my efforts, Dan did not thrive in his new foster environment. He died within 24 hours. Callie on the other hand seemed willing to give it the old college try. I looked into her green compound eyes. Was she just going along with it out of sheer kaleidoscopic terror? I'll never know.
Soon afterwards, I read online that sugar water is what people use to feed butterflies, so I switched over to that, soaking a cotton swap. It took some trial and error to get the concentration just right so the syrup wouldn't be too sticky. At one point, it seemed like her proboscis had gotten stuck to itself, so I found myself swabbing it with water to dilute the syrup and then gently unfurling it with a toothpick. That's when I recognized that I was maybe getting a little too attached. The life span of a butterfly, I learned through my research, is about two weeks. She's going to die any day now, Tammy, just take it easy. But as long as she was alive and still eating and not dead, I was happy.
By Day 3, we had a routine. Multiple times a day, I would blow on her gently to see if she was dead. Right on cue, she would uncoil her proboscis and start feeling around for food. She'd crawl onto my hand and sip the sugar water from a Q-tip. Same with Days 4 and 5. By the evening of Day 6, I noticed that she wasn't looking too good. Her antennae were droopy. When I blew on her, she moved a little, but her proboscis remained coiled. I blew a little harder: no response. She was dead by morning.
The kids were fine. I, of course, burst into tears. Husband rolled his eyes. I know what he was thinking: "Girls." I buried her by the raspberry bushes, Dan at her side. It seemed like a good place for a butterfly.