The images above are from monarch butterflies last fall. In closely observing their life cycle, I also learned more about the vulnerabilities at each stage of the cycle. I had always heard that monarchs eat milkweed so they taste bad to predators so I was very upset when the first two monarch caterpillars we noticed on our milkweed plants were lost to predators.
Once I brought caterpillars in to our porch, we got to observe the amazing process by which they transform into a chrysalis. And we saw that not all of them make it to this stage. We had one that died in the process of transformation. Another couple never emerged; the chrysalises turned dark but just never opened. We released over a dozen healthy butterflies into the garden on warm sunny days. The last two to open were unable to properly dry their wings to be able to fly. These I gently transferred to the bark of my favorite tree and left them climbing and exploring, knowing they would not fly away.
I was surprised by the grief particularly from these last two. At the same time, I had a whole new appreciation of all the vulnerabilities and the strength and wonder within the fragility of the life cycle of these amazing travelers.
Inspiration from an Artist and Naturalist: Maria Sibylla Merian
Maria Sibylla Merian was lived from 1647 to 1717 and is known for her amazing and detailed illustrations of the life cycles of insects. At a time when few women were able to study science, she began by observing and recording insects accessible in her own yard. Merian studied art and used her skills to record her observations and study science. She illustrated life cycles at a time when the predominant belief was that life simply sprang into being. Hers are some of the first recordings of this process. Maria Popova writes beautifully about Maria Merian and her legacy in this essay on Brainpickings:
Art, Science and Butterfly Metamorphosis: How a 17th Century Woman Laid the Foundations of Modern Entomology
And in this review of a beautiful illustrated children’s book about Maria Merian’s life:
Maria Merian’s Butterflies: The Illustrated Story of How a 17th Century Woman Forever Changed the Course of Science Through Art
I am currently working on a paper cut design inspired by Maria Sibylla Merian to add to my Mother Trees Series.