Friday, July 21, 2017

Probed by a proboscis

I come back from a long, hot walk covered in sweat and plop down on the deck to cool off with a tall glass of water and a bag of cherries, and I'm sitting there spitting cherry seeds out into the hostas when a butterfly lands on my leg and starts probing my with its proboscis.

It's a plain little brownish thing, some sort of skipper with a distinctive spot on its lower wing, and it sits there for maybe five minutes sucking up whatever minerals it can find in the sweat-spots produced by my morning walk. Lacking a handy camera, I memorize the marking so I can look it up later--a silver-spotted skipper, distinguishable by a silvery blotch that's supposed to resemble the outline of India, although in this case it looks a little more like Maine.

But never mind about that: let's go back to that sweat. I don't mind if a butterfly wants to drink my sweat--after all, I'm not exactly using it--but such lovely, delicate creatures ought to feast on nectar and fairy tears, not sweaty clothes. Nevertheless I've seen butterflies sucking up sustenance from mud flats, carrion, and even sometimes feces. One of the lovelier butterflies in Ohio, the Red Admiral, is known for its appetite to rotting fruit and carrion, a word that calls to mind blood, guts, and maggots, not feathery fluttery butterflies.

But I suppose I can't begrudge butterflies their little pleasures: they may bring us tremendous beauty, but their lives nevertheless can be nasty, brutish, and short. It's not unusual to see great big showy butterflies flitting around with big chunks missing from their wings where birds grabbed 'em, and the other day when I accidentally knocked over a milkweed plant, I wondered how many monarchs that plant could have sustained.

So I give butterflies their due: they make the best of a difficult situation, finding sustenance where they can. And I give them my dew, staying still as the skipper sips sweat from my leg so delicately that I can barely feel the touch of its proboscis. Giving of my sweat is a small price to pay for the beauty butterflies bring into my world. (I draw the line, though, at becoming carrion.)


No comments: