Sneaky White Butterflies

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An experience with white butterflies led to a discussion about nature.

Sneaky White Butterflies

In England, I’ve seen special areas that have been fenced off for local people to grow their vegetables and fruit. They’re called ‘allotments’. It’s a good idea to have a green space, and to grow your own produce, it has its delights. Here in Kiwiland, we don’t have them, but I do! It’s not an area allotted to me by the local government though, my nephew’s garden has been underutilized because he’s away working most of the time, so I potter about in it. I was up there the other day to water some leek plants I’d planted recently in the expectation they’ll be ready during the winter. Maybe leeks aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the Welsh in me, has me enjoying leeks in a vegetable soup, and leeks in white sauce are good company in any decent meal. There’s usually flatulence, but that’s another story.

My nephew lives on his own, but likes a bit of cabbage to go with his corned beef and potatoes, but he’s been having trouble with white butterflies, or more correctly, their caterpillars, the little green buggers can very quickly make a cabbage look like it’s been shot with a shotgun. To keep them off, he’s made a frame and covered it with plastic netting. As I watered, using a can, I noticed a couple of white butterflies fluttering around inside the enclosure and wondered how they managed to get in. Maybe they have just hatched… but from what? I lifted the netting to check on a cabbage plant and found two eggs on it. They’d been, or the female of the pair, had been laying her eggs. I decided to squash both butterflies once I’d finished my watering, but afterwards there was but one butterfly in there! How could that be? I stood there scratching my head. As I watched the remaining butterfly, it alighted onto the frame of the enclosure and poked its head through the netting. It folded its wings along its body and simply squeezed through and fluttered off! If I hadn’t seen it, I’d never have believed it. So grudgingly, I have new respect for the pests.

Y’know, there’s always been a religious context to nature or natural events because of the patterns that can be seen, especially when one thing ties up so well with another. I’ve always called her Mother Nature, I suppose because traditionally females represent fertility, but call it what you will, there’s something wonderful about how tiny a speck of pollen contributes to a giant tree! It’s understandable to think otherwise, but I reckon Darwin was spot on in his writings about evolution and the survival of the fittest. Humanity’s always made up mystical stories, even created the calendar to help us explain what’s happening around us, but natural life relies on photosynthesis for just about everything to, which makes the equinoxes more important indicators of the seasons than any calendar. And let’s not forget carbon dioxide’s role in photosynthesis.  

Here at Lat.45?S, we have strong winds around the time of the equinoxes. Strong winds aren’t usually favoured by we mere mortals, unless you’re a kid with a kite, but our important food crops are fertilised by the wind. Wheat, barley, oats, maize and rice are grasses that aren’t indigenous here but we do have many grasses that are important to our ecology. These days we grow most of the grain crops, so the wind has a new importance for us, that of food security. We have large areas of monoculture managed forest, and during the spring equinox winds, there are billowing clouds of yellow pollen that has the appearance of smoke. The proteins in pollen make a valuable food source, albeit for a short time and organisms quickly take advantage of it.

The autumn equinox has its own role too, the distribution of seed. The winged seeds of trees like sycamore and ash are well-known, and because of our mountains and something called the adiabatic lapse rate warm air, pinecones crack open and the wind blows their seed near and far. Likewise the warm equinox winds cause plants with pods like broom and gorse to twist suddenly and fire their seeds into the air. In the northern hemisphere, animals and some birds store acorns and nuts for winter food, but they don’t locate all of them for nourishment, so their activity helps to spread the seed. Strong winds have the capacity to bowl over mature or ailing trees, which for mankind, is often catastrophic, but for life in general there are seeds, seedlings or saplings, waiting for the opportunity of more light for years. Other opportunists take advantage of what remains of the tree as a food resource.

Life, or nature evolved by taking advantage of whatever there was to offer, the fungus that grows on the fallen pollen quickly develop and its spores will remain viable in the soil, waiting for another opportunity. The white butterfly cannot survive the cold winters, but instinctively lays her eggs in warmer spots or the caterpillar manufactures its pupa attached to the sunny side of a fence or tree. If you wonder: what came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s also worth wondering: what came first, the organism or the food source? And how long the food source was available before the organism evolved to take advantage of it? For instance, ants evolved 168 million years ago and became dominant 60 million years ago, while the first specialised anteaters appeared 20 million years ago.

It’s uncertain what the future holds for our species, sure, we’ve found ways to produce food rather than forage for it, although we still rely on Mother Nature to help us. Food security seems not to be as important as other resources; unlike other species, we squander resources that aren’t related to food, resources of lifestyle, and if we fail to respect them, more quickly will those resources become exhausted. Therein lies our demise.


Submitted: April 15, 2021

© Copyright 2021 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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88 fingers

This is so true. Very good article.

Thu, April 15th, 2021 11:01pm

Author
Reply

Thank you fingers, I appreciate you commenting. Usianguke

Fri, April 16th, 2021 2:54pm

olive tree

That makes so much sense why there were so many butterflies in my garden last year. We had no idea they were actually pests. Thought they just liked the plants. Damn butterflies.

Greed and pride are definitely the recipe for our demise.

Sat, April 17th, 2021 1:53am

Author
Reply

Thank you Olive Tree, I find it interesting, people have encouraged monarch butterflies to breed locally. They aren't indigenous here, but behave the same. The butterfy lifespan is 2 - 6 weeks, but the last generation before winter can live for 8 - 10 months. Mother nature is clever. Usianguke

Fri, April 16th, 2021 10:41pm

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