Let me start this drivel by saying, an Insect Lore butterfly kit is THE most amazing way to spend £20 this summer. The smallest creatures can teach us the biggest lessons. When I was about ten, I was taught a life lesson by a Daddy Long Legs. It was one of those hot, sticky, ever-so-close, summer nights and she was flitting about my bedroom ceiling. I must have spent close to a half an hour chasing her around with a rolled up copy of Smash Hits, trying to coax her out of the window. When I finally got her there and brushed her gently out, she flew straight into a spider’s web hanging from the gutter outside, and was slowly eaten over the next couple of days, leg by leg, until she was just a dot. I once witnessed someone tread on a pregnant spider and laugh as the trillion motherless baby spiders spilled out, only to be trodden on themselves. We’re all made differently. I still think about that Daddy Long Legs. And that spider.
So, back to the butterflies. For the first few days, the little caterpillars you receive eat, spin silk and grow to ten times their size. Then they move up to the ceiling of the cup, hang themselves upside down and slowly harden into chrysalides that sometimes shake frantically. It’s amazing, in the truest sense of the word. Once hard, you gently transfer them to the habitat provided by Insect Lore, which you fill with sticks, leaves, fruit and sugar water, and you wait. And one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be watching them and a Painted Lady butterfly will suddenly emerge slowly, spread it’s wings to dry and flit around the home you have made it, eating the fruit, and generally looking beautiful. You’ll name them. Once all five have hatched and all of their wings are dry, you set them free. It’s two weeks of pure magic.
Of course, life is tricky. One of our butterflies got stuck under a piece of fruit as it was emerging and tore its wing. We could see the little triangle of missing wing at the bottom of the cage. The butterfly, who we had named Leia, fluttered but did not fly. When she tried to gain height, she would just fall to the bottom. I contacted Insect Lore and they confirmed what I had already read online, that an injured butterfly is at great risk in the wild, so the best thing to do was let her live out her days in the safety of the home we had made for her and her siblings. We agreed that short of glueing the wing back on (sometimes possible apparently but WELL outside of my YouTube fix-it-yourself comfort zone) it was the right thing to do.
A few days later it was time to set the other four butterflies free. We unzipped the habitat, and one by one they were passed into the BUBs’ little hands and immediately flew up up into the blue sky, our eyes chasing them, to see them one last time. And then there was Leia. Leia came back inside and we tried to make her life as interesting as possible. She got special treatment. Not just apples and oranges, but also strawberries and raspberries. I created a forest of sticks and branches with leaves and flowers within her tiny home.
But we were all counting the days. We knew that Painted Lady butterflies only live for a couple of weeks. One day, one of us broke.
“She can fly a bit,,” said Willy Wonka. “But I don’t want us all to see her being snatched from the ground by a bird,” I said. “We could just try. If she falls, we could just pop her back in quickly,” he said, hopefully.
So we opened the back door, unzipped the cage, and out came Leia onto a little, trembling palm. Our Leia. We all watched, our hearts thumping. Our Leia took one look at that big blue sky and up she went. To our amazement she flew so high into the trees we quickly lost sight of her. She had found her freedom. It must have felt so good. But we looked at each in silence. We had kept her for days in that cramped habitat with faux trees and cut flowers. Questions were hanging in the air. “Should we have done that sooner?”, “Did our special care finally give her the strength to fly?”, “Could she not fly because we didn’t believe she could?” and “How long will she last?”
But as we told the BUBs, none of that really mattered now. Leia was free. You make the decisions you think are right at the time. The important thing was that when Leia was eventually given the chance to do what she was born to do, she took it with both wings.
Which puts me in mind of the lyrics of Radiohead’s ‘Let Down’.
Shell smashed, juices flowing.
Wings twitch, legs are going.
Don’t get sentimental,
it always ends up drivel.