I heard a fascinating radio programme on Sunday morning which related how the Little White Butterfly migrates from the Kalahari, right across Africa, to end its journey (and its life) off the Mozambique coast, and sometimes, as far away as Madagascar. Apart from the mind-blowing physical feat of such a tiny insect flying thousands of kilometres what is even more astonishing is that nobody has managed to work out why they do this.
As a rule, animal migrations are connected with moving to better grazing areas (the great annual migrations of antelope across the African plains) or returning to birth places to breed – think of turtles or salmon. But: the puzzling thing about the butterfly migration is that they breed immediately upon hatching from the chrysalis stage, and having laid their eggs upon the Shepherd’s tree, (also their hatching location) they then flex their wings, and fly off to their doom, 2 000 kms later. It’s inexplicable. Lepidopterologists are scratching their heads. I’m shaking mine in amazement.
A FaceBook page has been opened so that members of the public can post reports of time, location and other data when the butterfly swarms – do we call them swarms? flocks? clouds? *I don’t know – arrive in their neighbourhood. By collating this data, it’s hoped to learn more about the phenomenon. If you’re interested the link is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/WhiteButterflyMigration/?fref=ts
Thinking about butterfly migrations leads me to Barbara Kingsolver’s most recent novel Flight Behaviour, which deals with the Monarch Butterfly migrations in North America. Having seen a marvellous TV documentary on the myriad orange butterflies, and the spectacle of roosting insects creating vast swathes of orange trees in evergreen forests, and marvelling at the phenomenon, I was dead keen to read the book. Furthermore, the blurb indicated that the migrating butterflies had a transformative effect on those who witnessed their flight over the continent, and I thought: what a wonderful theme for a novel, the healing and transformative power of nature! But alas! I abandoned the book after the first 30 or so pages – the characters were so plain awful, I just could not bear to read any more about them and their miserable lives. Yes, I lack staying power and fortitude, I bow my head in shame, but – hey, guys! Life’s too short to read dreadful books. Sorry, but there it is.
*I am enchanted to discover that there are a number of collective nouns to describe large numbers of butterflies: rabble, flutter, swarm, kaleidoscope, rainbow or swarm of butterflies. A rabble of butterflies? doesn’t sound right, somehow, whereas ‘A rainbow of butterflies’ is sheer poetry. Take your pick! (thank you, Google, for the info).