Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mystery in Three

All week we noticed orange colored butterflies moving past our 7th story balcony. Considering the altitude, far from any nectar-bearing flower, and this being October on the gulf coast of Florida, we guessed they were south-migrating monarchs, though we couldn't get a good enough look for a positive ID---perhaps on their way to that place in Mexico, there to hang on a tree with their family multitudes for the winter, awaiting the mysterious warm day among many when they know it is time to head north again. The bigger mystery looming---that of how 3rd or 4th generation monarchs, after a summer of life-cycling in places North American, know to fly back to the same trees in Mexico on which their great-great-great-grandparents spent the winter---we concentrated for the moment on the question of whether the ones we saw flying past our open windows were indeed monarchs. Aware mostly of only their silhouettes, darkened by the light behind them, we saw at least that they were orange.

Then, sadly, we found several of the same butterflies dead on the beach one day, looking out of place among the expected shells and jelly fish and seaweed, as if they had been washed up by the tide. The blue patches on their underwings determined they were not monarchs, but provoked the new questions of what they were and how they came to be pressed into the sand without having been eaten. Were they blown there by the wind, and caught by the water? dkm

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