Tag Archives: eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Butterfly effect

I don’t always know what I’m going to say until I’ve said it.  That best describes what follows.  This represents more a rambling catharsis for me than anything else, as much a directionless mental and emotional ablution as it is an attempt to communicate.

A black-morph female eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) banging on a budding tree (2010_04_10_053365)

“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”  Though the butterfly effect in fact first used a seagull flapping its wings as an example of how initial conditions in a dynamical system could vastly change the outcome, and though this was used as part of chaos theory where knowing the initial conditions of the system allowed one to model the outcome despite its complexity, I’ve always thought of the butterfly effect as being more appropriate for complex systems science, chaos theory’s unpredictable cousin.

In complex systems science, dynamical systems—large, complex systems—cannot be predicted even when the initial conditions are known.  The most common example of this is the weather, where generalized models, precedents and guesses make up forecasts while the actual weather remains truly unpredictable because the interaction of even the smallest things can vastly affect the outcome, and the same initial conditions can produce a different outcome each time.

An orange sulphur (a.k.a. alfalfa sulphur; Colias eurytheme) on a small aster flower (2009_10_23_032693)

Life—any life or life in general—is a dynamical system, a complex system, a system where every small variable can greatly impact the outcome.  Each event we face can alter our path: every hiccup in the fabric of normalcy can cause us to stumble and divert from our destination, every victory can turn us down a road other than the one we intended.  Who can say how different your life would be were one simple event changed in your past?

A Gulf fritillary (a.k.a. passion butterfly; Agraulis vanillae) feeding on a dandelion (2009_10_31_035393)

In late July I was stung by several wasps, an event that irrevocably altered my journey.  Being allergic to wasp stings—deathly allergic—meant several stings was a major problem.  Interestingly enough, however, the stings led to the discovery of an even larger issue, one far more dangerous.  And treatment for the wasp stings also slowed down the new enemy, an unexpected opportunity to react to the new assault.

But the newest enemy wasn’t to be deterred.  Instead of cooperating, it rebelled and became a bigger problem than it should have been.  Which resulted in my unexpected absence for a few weeks.  Yet even my return home would carry with it yet more unexpected turns.

A hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis) resting on a tree (2009_10_23_033250)

I sat at my desk several days after coming home, and I tried to catch up on e-mail.  That’s when I discovered that one of my close friends from high school had died in early November.  He was my age.  His death was so unexpected that the e-mail made clear that the cause of death was unknown at that time.  I was shocked and disheartened.  Michael had been the good friend in high school who read all of my early writing and who encouraged me to do something with it.  He mentioned to me several years later that he had spent much time watching for my name to pop up in book stores.  That he was gone so suddenly hit me like a punch in the gut.

Then less than week later another friend died.  She was in her nineties and her death came as no surprise, but it still hurt.  For as I’ve said before, accepting impermanence as a fact of the universe fails to soften the blow of death because we can expect it but never truly be prepared for it.  That her name was Glad carried a painful irony.

About a week after that my mother informed me that my father had fallen quite ill.  So sick in fact that he couldn’t sleep lying down because he would suffocate.  His health has been failing for many years, sure, and I keep telling myself that the call shouldn’t shock me.  Nevertheless, especially under the mounting circumstances, I wondered if this would be the turn for him.

And then just last weekend, just as I alluded to and wondered, my beloved Annie lost her dearest Jacques.  His decline had felt imminent, albeit coupled with the up-and-down unknowing that so often fills such times.  His suffering ended and her load relieved, it still felt like one more nail in the coffin, one more flap of the butterfly wings in my life, one more variable that would significantly alter the outcome.  Because in all honesty, I’d had my own downward turns coupled with so much death and so much bad news that I felt crushed beneath the weight of it all.

A male northern crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) perched in the grass (2010_04_10_053138)

So I put on a façade, a mask as it were, and found myself wandering aimlessly in what seemed to be never-ending shadow.  I smiled when I was expected to smile, I responded when queried, and I pretended.  Inside, though, where no one could see, I sank into the depths of abyssal despair.  For all the flapping butterfly wings in my life, it seemed all the change they offered was bad.

Yet more and more I had clarity of thought, something that eluded me for a while, and in that returning lucidity I received one more bit of news, this time about me.  The news was good, surprisingly good in fact, and received well ahead of schedule and in direct contravention of all the prognostications that had come before.  Things were suddenly turning around, a course correction thanks in no small part to the sudden downturn I had in late October.  The very bad thing had required very aggressive remedies that resulted in a very rapid turnaround.  Like, um, wow!

An American snout (Libytheana carinenta) perched on a dry reed (2009_11_26_041608)

There remains a long road ahead, one stretching years into the future, and I must travel that road before I can put these troubles behind me.  At least my own troubles.  But where there once was nothing but bad news, now suddenly there’s not just good news, there’s hope.  I had considered it a luxury I couldn’t afford.  Now it’s been thrust upon me.

And that leaves me feeling somewhat confused.  I want to leap up and down, at least virtually, which seems counter to the suffering of others that has piled up so quickly.  I feel selfish for not investing more in them right now.  I feel glad to know I might see the metaphorical road home more quickly than I thought, that I might step off the bridge to nowhere even though I feared I never would.

I’ve been on the edge, hanging from the precipice as it were, and the flap of a butterfly’s wings got me back on my feet even while it took so much from others.  At this time and place, in the face of conflicted emotions, I’m embarrassed to say that today, after hearing my own good news, all I could think about was how the smallest variable can dramatically affect the outcome.  All I could think about was the butterfly effect and how it worked to my advantage this time.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Black-morph female eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

[2] Orange sulphur (a.k.a. alfalfa sulphur; Colias eurytheme)

[3] Gulf fritillary (a.k.a. passion butterfly; Agraulis vanillae)

[4] Hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

[5] Male northern crescent (Phyciodes cocyta)

[6] American snout (Libytheana carinenta)

A little unwell

The morning brought with it a sense of dread, a feeling of inescapable doom cloaked in pangs of agony.  And it went downhill from there.

Some ghoulish specter visited me during the night and deposited a sour stomach where my docile tummy had been the day before.

Stress, I think, or at least nerves and stress and fatigue exacerbating what should have been a minor upset stomach.  Though I do feel I’m getting a good ab workout…

Rushing slowly from minute to minute as the day zooms effortlessly by me in a race to bring the weekend to my doorstep, a weekend for being on call and lacking any rest or ability to relax looms just beyond the horizon of night, just over that midnight hill up ahead.

How I deplore being sick, and only slightly less than I deplore my job.  Pulling me under until I can no longer breathe, this employment embodies the scourge of plagues and the death of hope.

But I dare not dwell on it, not today at least.  If I’m to feel better, I must be calm and tranquil.

Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia) with the shadows of dew beneath the petals (20080920_12165)
Close-up of a female muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) as she sits beside the pier (20080920_12151)
A male regal jumping spider (Phidippus regius) perched on a twig as he watches me watch him (20080920_12216)
A dark-form female eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) grabbing a sip of nectar (20080921_12561)
An abandoned spider web from an unidentified orb weaver (20080921_12695)
A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched high in a treetop (20080921_12709)
A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) resting atop a log waiting for sunlight (20080921_12832)
A fallen leaf reduced to the lace outline of its veins (20080921_12722)

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia)

[2] Female muscovy duck (Cairina moschata)

[3] Male regal jumping spider (Phidippus regius)

[4] Dark-form female eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

[5] Abandoned spider web from unidentified orb weaver

[6] Male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

[7] Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

[8] Fallen leaf reduced to the lace outline of its veins

For LD and nathalie with an h

nathalie with an h suffers from an allergy to wasp stings that rivals my own anaphylactic reaction.  You can therefore understand why she has been rather disapproving of my affinity for wasps and the resulting mania with which I’ve posted their photos recently[1].  She certainly has every right to be weary of them (and the spider I need to go rescue from her home before she does something untoward), so I gleefully enjoyed her ribbing me at Starbucks each morning about her not wanting to see more wasp photos.

LD dislikes insects in general.  Her own words do better justice to this phobia than any I could write.  In an e-mail to me about a horde of critters around their front porch[2], she said this: “I’m kind of a nut about bugs[3] and ones that fly REALLY freak me out.”  While some might think her a bit hysterical, she shares this manic fear with a majority of people.  Her feelings on the subject actually are quite normal in the scheme of human responses to insects.

Upon consideration of these two people and their collective view of insects, I felt behooved to share more of my fanaticism in this regard, only this time I want to post creatures I’m sure both of them would enjoy.  So, ladies, this is for you!

A painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) (20080412_03322)

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)

A fall webworm moth (Hyphantria cunea) (20080314_02566)

Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea)

A red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) (20080420_04206)

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

A common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) (20080420_04300)

Common buckeye (Junonia coenia)

A white checkered-skipper butterfly (Pyrgus albescens) (20080601_05981)

White checkered-skipper (Pyrgus albescens)

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) (20080601_06173)

Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

A silver-spotted skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus) (20080701_08707)

Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

I hope both of you found a wee bit of respite in knowing this marvelous group of creatures offers you some of the most profound beauty and gentility that can be found on our planet.

— — — — — — — — — —

[1] Offering posts involving wasps happens to be something I’ve not yet completed this year, especially of my local cicada killers.  Be warned.

[2] I identified the insect invasion xocobra and LD have near their front door as being the result of eastern boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata).  My dear friends have another month or two before they need to take action on that problem.

[3] By “bugs,” LD actually means insects and not just true bugs[4], a subset of the class Insecta.

[4] True bugs constitute a type of insect in the order Hemiptera.  All true bugs have mouthparts capable of piercing tissues and sucking out fluids.  In addition, usually their forewings have hardened bases, their antennae are five-segmented, and their leg tarsi are three-segmented or shorter.

A tiger takes a drink

Although my walk around White Rock Lake yesterday did not last as long as I had hoped, its end did offer an encounter with a beautiful eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) as it fetched a drink from a puddle beneath a cottonwood tree.  It lingered in the middle of the mud pit which kept me at bay, yet I still was able to grab some images of this enormous piece of artwork from the edges of the wet patch.

An eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) standing in a mud puddle (20080601_06145)
An eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) standing in a mud puddle (20080601_06155)
An eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) drinking from a mud puddle (20080601_06162)
A close-up of the hindwings of an an eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) as it drinks from a puddle (20080601_06166)

[note that none of these photos are macro shots; I never got that close to the butterfly due to the mud and the ants that infested the periphery of the slick]


Jenny sent these photos to me some time ago.  Taken in July 2006, they show yet another visitor to her backyard garden.  You might remember the black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) seen here and here.  Suffice it to say Jenny has gone to great lengths to make her garden attractive to butterflies, and this represents yet another example of her success in that regard.

What you see below is called an intergrade species.  Essentially, it’s a hybrid between the red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) and white admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis or Limenitis arthemis rubrofasciata) butterflies.  The species designation is simply Limenitis arthemis to show it is not one of the specific subspecies.

Thanks to Abe’s comment, I now know this is the black form female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  After looking at photos of this species along with several others, it made my head hurt because they all look so much alike.  Thankfully there are those who know a great deal more about them than I do and can offer informed direction—which I greatly appreciate.

Papilio glaucus

A Limenitis arthemis intergrade butterfly (2006-07-29 013)
A Limenitis arthemis intergrade butterfly (2006-07-29 012)