1. The Messengers of the Souls
Delicate and gracious beings, they are called the messengers of the souls, in a sense that, when a loved one ceases to exist, there is a higher chance of being visited by a butterfly. At least that is what Turks believe , whereas to the Japanese the butterfly is a symbol of women. They obviously represent metamorphosis, often connected to evolutive transformations.
Beautiful and mysterious, they have fascinating particularities that I got to know at the butterfly house in Parque Urbano da Quinta da Rana in Cascais with a format similar with that of a cocoon. Open the wings of imagination and come fly with me into the fascinating world of butterflies.
2. The Butterfly House in Parque Urbano de Quinta da Rana
Developed by João Pedro Cardoso da Conceição, the Borboletário is a unique space that makes incursions into nature at certain moments of the year for visitors to understand the species that populate the locations, which ones are at risk, and understand their behaviors.
I am welcomed there by Diogo Rama da Silva, biologist. With a wide smile and showing his love for what he does, this biologist tells us of the importance of education and awareness at schools that are frequently welcomed in this place and for which they do guided tours, as well as of the curiosities that make butterflies such beautiful and special beings.
Diogo says that “in the world, the official number is 180 thousand species, but it’s considered that they have already reached the 220 thousand.” As for Portugal, for now we have 2500 species decorating our forests and gardens.
The butterflies’ lifecycle goes from the eggs are left by the female on host plants that worms will eat after they are born. Each species feeds from several plants or from a single vegetable variety.
When the worm hatches, it is very small and goes through different stages, modifying its skin. Later, once it stores enough reserves, it looks for a place to fix itself, be it on plants, stones, tree trunks or on the floor.
Once it makes it into a chrysalis, the worm fixes itself and sheds the skin, producing a new harder and more resistant one, which protects it against predators and a more adverse climate. It is here that magic happens… Here occurs the metamorphosis, a total transformation in which the worm’s tissues and organs decompose themselves to make room for the new structures that will create an adult insect.
Some species form a cocoon to protect the chrysalis, such as the famous silkworm, and at the end of all these stages, the butterfly breaks out from the chrysalis, settles itself again, uses its blood to pump and grow its own wings, and when the wings are dry, it is then time to fly, find a partner, and start a new life cycle.
There I stand, listening to Diogo as he tells me curiosities about this incredible insect, made up from a pair of antennae and 6 legs, similar to other insects…
4. Reproduction and life goals
Butterflies take up to 5 days to lay eggs, which can be between 300 and 400. They drink a sugary and watery liquid that is found inside the flowers, for which they use a kind of a straw, in a tongue that rolls itself out as they prepare to feed themselves.
They are pollinators and, without them, many plants would risk going extinct, as well as many animals that feed from these plants. In nature, everything is connected and mankind should be more aware of what surrounds them.
5. Belle Dame, Vanessa Cardui, the marathonist
With a name that resembles Royalty, this magnificent marathonist can fly for 12.500 kilometers and then return to her point of departure to meet her family once again. Butterflies fly from 7 to 50 kilometers per hour, with a capacity to reach up to 60 km/h.
Larger butterflies like Belle Dame are, by norm, those that also live longer. The life expectancy of most butterflies is not long, starting from just seven days of life, while Belle Dame can live up to twelve months.
6. The inebriated butterfly
Charaxes jasius, also called the strawberry tree butterfly, is the widest one in Portugal, with a head resembling that of a little dragon. It has an interesting particularity, “due to the alcohol from this fruit that it loves, it is often inebriated. It is common to see it fly in an uncoordinated manner”, says the biologist laughing.
7. The skull butterfly, or death’s-head hawkmoth: a famous character
The death’s-head hawkmoth (Acherontia Atropos), had its rise to fame in 1991 on the popular film “The Silence of the Lambs”, directed by Jonathan Demme. It is one of the most popular seventh art productions. Its billboard, where we can see Jodie Foster with a skull butterfly over her mouth, has become an absolute icon.
“The Silence of the Lambs” uses the drawing of a butterfly’s torax, a skull that Salvador Dali immortalized on seven naked women and disposed in sexual positions. These women’s bodies make up the shape of a skull, a glimpse of which can be seen through some form of optical illusion.
The meaning of the skull crosses many civilizations of the world, being connected to the idea of death. Its meaning is still likened to disease that serves to remind us that life is short. It still shows an implicit symbol of wisdom, exaltation and domain, since the cranium is the top of the human body, and this skull is represented in this butterfly.
Besides being a symbol of happiness, beauty and soul, it also represents nature and renovation. In the Christian ideology, this idea is intimately intertwined with life, death as well as spiritual resurrection.
The Acherontia Atropos or skull butterfly can reach a wingspan of about 130 milimeters, which makes it one of the largest and heaviest species of butterflies in the world. She lives especially in the region of the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, in the Azores, in Portugal and in the Canary Islands in Spain.
8. Queen Alexandra
Queen Alexandra was named as such for being a butterfly that can reach 28 centimeters, the largest in its reign, when we speak of daytime butterflies. Moths, which are the nighttime ones, can reach even larger sizes. Butterflies are measured by the size they display when they open their wings.
And here is a little bit of the wonderful world of this beautiful and delicate being that so marvelously decorates our planet.