The Nature Report: Tell the butterflies how you feel before they go

Nicholas Tillinghast/The Miscellany News


Before I get to my butterfly comments, I must say there is an ample supply of quality dogs around campus this semester. I saw this real tiny black dog that was smaller than an infant and yet was trusted to not be on a leash, which kind of blew my mind. 

On the other side of the dog spectrum, I passed by a dog with such long legs that it reactivated my childhood fear of large dogs. After it passed me, I anxiously looked over my shoulder at least five different times to really gauge the leg length I had just witnessed. If this dog were to wear pants (which they would wear exclusively on their back two legs), that dog would have had at minimum a 32” inseam, which is unnecessarily long.

I was able to identify the dog as a Scottish Deerhound, a breed of canine who won the 2011 Westminster Dog Show and the past two National Dog Shows, per Westminster Kennel Club. It seems that everybody but me is enamored with the Scottish Deerhound’s 32” inseam legs. You might be thinking, “But Nick, isn’t the Westminster Dog Show a competition based on breed standards and not on the subjective qualities of a dog breed?” If that were true, then why has the Terrier Group won best in show in  41% of all Westminster Dog Show competitions, according to the Westminster Kennel Club? Riddle me that, America.   

Two weeks ago, while working for the greenhouse, I pulled my club car up by the narrow stretch of flowers in front of the library (it’s okay if you can’t picture that spot in your head; it’s very forgettable). Right through my windshield, I could see a certain striped yellow butterfly. It was the tiger swallowtail, fluttering its wings and touching bright pink and yellow flowers. Right behind it was a national treasure, the monarch butterfly, tonguing nectar. 

 It was very easy to hop out of my golf cart and point my rectangular device a foot away from the tiger and the monarch without freaking them out. Butterflies are quite confident in their ability to exist. Their bright colors tell you very simply, “If you eat me, you may die, so don’t.” The common bathroom moth is a far less photogenic insect. They appear on window screens and sink rims, colored like a brown paper bag, and just stare, longingly, as I brush my teeth. I have no good bathroom moth pictures. 

Last Thursday night, the air finally dipped down to a level that I would consider “Oh boy, it’s chilly out” weather.  As I walked from the Deece to Main, I began to feel shivers come over me. I can only imagine what that monarch butterfly was thinking that night, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Damn, I better flap down to Mexico.​​ This Poughkeepsie, NY, sure has a lot of Steinway pianos, but what it lacks is Margarita Monday.”

Nicholas Tillinghast/The Miscellany News

I can imagine that the monarch proceeded to pack all up their butterfly belongings and is now miles and miles away from here. Yesternight, a motel in Scranton; today, the early train to Harrisburg, all the while excitedly flipping through a brochure for Tijuana, as not to miss any of the beautiful details or images.

Some monarchs like this one may have fluttered away, but you still may have the opportunity to tell some other monarch butterfly how you feel before they go—like how you think their wings are pretty cool and how you would never eat them, not just because because they’re toxic and because it could kill you, but also because that wouldn’t be very nice and because you have a deep respect for butterflies. I think the monarch butterfly population would be really receptive to this.

The monarch butterfly may be gone, but the tiger swallowtail will stay in Poughkeepsie all year long. The tiger thinks, “As much as I’d love to see the Chichen Itza, an incredible testament to ancient Maya civilization, I’d rather take a very long nap for the entirety of winter instead.” With a yawn and a shiver, the tiger swallowtail will once again spin into a chrysalis, reminiscing about the chrysalis they once spun in their youth. 

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