It had been ten days and one hour. Ten days inside the chrysalis, ten days of undergoing a complete change in body structure. One hour spent hanging upside down, waiting for her wings to dry. Those were new to the viceroy – the black and orange wings. As a caterpillar, she had been green, brown, and white. She had lived on this same leaf since birth, using it as a food source and a shelter during the long months of hibernation. She had watched from this leaf as birds, snakes, and turtles attacked the other caterpillars, who had been hiding from the sun and the predators beneath the shelter of their own leaf. But these attacks didn’t frighten the viceroy. She knew she would be safe, because she spent her days on the top of her leaf, producing white silk and spreading her body in just the right way, so that any animal passing by would see nothing other than a bird dropping. And who would want to eat a bird dropping?
Now things were different. The viceroy was ready to leave her familiar leaf, her home for the past ten months, and enter a new territory. Her wings gave her the ability to go wherever she wanted, and they shone bright in the light of the day. She would need to exercise them. Her antennae were still here, exactly where they should be, although they were longer, thinner, and midnight black to match her body. She looked completely different, but the transformation was as natural to her as the rise and fall of the sun. All her life had been spent growing and preparing for this moment, the moment when she would enter the world of the wind. With a final touch of antennae to leaf, she looked into the sky, spread her wings, and flew.
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The viceroy traveled from one plant to another, stopping at various fruits and leaves along the way. She crossed the smallest section of the flowing creek, the same creek she had seen from her leaf as a caterpillar. The area was filled with life; there were fish splashing in the water, trees stretching toward the clouds, and worms wriggling in the mud. The viceroy experienced this world in complete silence. She was not aware of the croaking frogs, the distant crow of the rooster, or even the flapping of her own wings. She was aware, however, of the multiple color patterns being displayed around her. This flower showed a distinct zigzag. That flower presented a circular arrangement. Another butterfly flew by, with a wing pattern identical to hers. It was as if a delicate conversation was occurring between the sun, the viceroy, and the other organisms. Here, said the sun, I will use my UV rays to brighten the world for you. Pick me, said the flowers, come eat my nectar and spread my pollen. The viceroy took all of this in as she floated in the breeze. Her eyes displayed a mosaic beautiful enough to hang in a museum. The water was on one side, a row of trees on the other, a field of flowers in front, and – wait, where did the sun go? The top of the mosaic was now cloaked in darkness, the ever-present light blocked by a looming figure. It was blurry, without a clear pattern. What was it? The viceroy might have recognized it from her days as a caterpillar, but it was difficult to tell. Luckily, the figure did not stay for long. After hovering a few more seconds, it disappeared into the clouds and the viceroy continued on her journey once again.
The field of flowers welcomed an exciting opportunity for the viceroy - the opportunity to eat for the first time in over a week. There were so many petals to choose from, how could she make a decision? She bounced from plant to plant, reaching and feeling with her feet and antennae at each one. The purple petals displayed an interesting design, but when the viceroy landed between them her feet detected no nectar. An orange flower, similar in color to the viceroy’s wings, looked promising. She landed on the plant and reached down with her antennae. This one didn’t have any nectar either. It must be the other butterflies, out on their own quests to find food, stealing all of the best nectar. Wait, what was that? A flower with blue petals and a pattern of interlocking rectangles, located just outside of the main field, isolated from the other plants. There were no other insects surrounding it, presumably because it was so far away. The viceroy was determined to make this her flower. She flew across the long section of grass while the wind pushed against her, landing on the edge of the closest petal with a gentle touch. She bent toward the middle with her antennae. Would there be nectar? A simple touch, a quiet pause, and yes, this flower contained the sweetest nectar of them all. The viceroy drank until she could drink no more. It did not taste like the leaf she had eaten as a caterpillar, but it was delicious and fulfilling in a new kind of way. It was the perfect first meal for a butterfly. She twirled in the air and danced around the flower in joy, as if to thank it for the meal it had provided. In that moment, it seemed as if nothing could go wrong. Then the darkness reappeared.
To another creature, the figure blocking the sun might look red. To the viceroy, it was simply a strange shape, almost completely devoid of color. It could fly like the viceroy, although it was much larger, and it had a sharp mouth instead of one designed to suck nectar. The viceroy had her wings tucked together and her back turned to the figure, but she could still see it in her mosaic, hovering in front of the sun. She watched as the figure swooped into the distant tree line, snatching insects from the air and the ground and consuming them in a single bite. Nothing was fast enough to compete with the figure’s giant wings. Their only hope was camouflage, blending into the surrounding plants and trying to stay as still as possible. Camouflage was not an option for the viceroy, for multiple reasons. Her wings, bright orange on each side, stood out among the other colors of nature. Trying to hide among green leaves would not be very helpful. Although, hiding among leaves wasn’t even possible because, in the viceroy’s attempt to find the flower with the best nectar, she had inadvertently isolated herself from all other plants. So when the blurry figure turned its sights on the her, the viceroy had only one chance at survival.
The same way the viceroy knew how to avoid predators as a caterpillar, she knew what to do now. The figure was flying straight toward her, the wind from its wings pushing against the antennae on her head. They were face to face. The viceroy’s black body was staring down the strange darkness of the figure, getting closer to her with every second. As the other insects cowered in the grass and the leaves, the viceroy faced the impending danger head-on. She waited until the very last second, the moment when the sharp mouth was about to open, then turned around and proudly displayed her wings. Dazzling and brilliant, the viceroy’s orange and black wings stood like a warning sign to the figure: consume me and you will be sick, very sick. There was another conversation occurring between organisms, although not nearly as delicate as the last one. The figure understood the message. It turned sharply at the last second, disappearing into the horizon, off to satisfy its hunger somewhere else. The viceroy watched it leave, then calmly took another sip of nectar from her flower.
After spending some more time exploring (there was a tasty lump beneath one of the taller trees, and at least two more butterflies with completely different wing patterns), the viceroy started looking for a place to rest. It was getting dark now, the kind of darkness that occurs naturally as the sun sets, and as she searched for a place to spend the night, the viceroy passed by her still hanging chrysalis. It was about to fall, supported only by a thin thread. She stopped to examine her old leaf. In the full day she had been gone, whatever was remaining had been eaten by other insects. It had holes in it, it was discolored, it didn’t look like the same leaf she had lived on for months. In some ways, it seemed fitting for her leaf to change as much as she had. In a single day, the viceroy had flown for the first time, tasted nectar for the first time, and confronted a mysterious figure for the first time. She was tired, and she could have stopped to rest right there. Instead, the viceroy moved on to a different plant. She hung upside down from a new leaf, looked at the moon behind her, and rested. And she would need it, because life as a butterfly was going to be full of interesting adventures.
In addition to the research done for the Eco-Postcards, the following sources were used for research while writing this story. 1. Butterfly Zone. “Butterfly UV Vision.” Butterfly Zone, www.butterflyzone.org/butterfly-uv-vision/. 2. Chen, Pei-Ju, et al. “The More, the Better? A Butterfly with 15 Kinds of Light Sensors in Its Eye.” Frontiers for Young Minds, 9 Jan. 2018, kids.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/frym.2017.00070. 3. Enchanted Learning. Caterpillar and Butterfly Defense Mechanisms. 2018, www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/butterfly/allabout/Defense.shtml. 4. Gomez, Anthony. “Hatching Butterflies...a Monarch Emerges from Its Chrysalis!” Monarch Butterfly Life, Monarch Butterfly Life, 4 Sept. 2020, monarchbutterflylifecycle.com/blogs/raise/hatching-butterflies-monarch-emerges-chrysalis. 5. Masters, Madeline. “What Insects Does the Cardinal Eat?” Animals.mom.com, 14 Aug. 2019, animals.mom.com/insects-cardinal-eat-4532.html. 6. Mckenna, Phil. Butterflies Remember Caterpillar Experiences. 5 Mar. 2008, www.newscientist.com/article/dn13412-butterflies-remember-caterpillar-experiences/. 7. Missouri Botanical Garden. “Metamorphosis.” Butterfly School, 2016, www.butterflyschool.org/new/meta.html. 8. Wetherbee, Kris. “7 Fascinating Facts about Butterflies (plus a Quick Quiz).” Oregonlive, 23 June 2012, www.oregonlive.com/hg/2012/06/7_fascinating_facts_about_butt.html.
Images 1. Bug Lady Blog. “Bug Lady Blog – Viceroy Butterfly Revisited.” Riveredge Nature Center, 2020, www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/bug-lady-blog-viceroy-butterfly-revisited/. 2. Howell, Mike. “Viceroy (Limenitis Archippus).” Alabama Butterfly Atlas, 2005, Kent, Judy. “Viceroy (Limenitis Archippus).” Alabama Butterfly Atlas, 2017, alabama.butterflyatlas.usf.edu/species/details/91/viceroy. . 3. Kent, Judy. “Viceroy (Limenitis Archippus).” Alabama Butterfly Atlas, 2017, alabama.butterflyatlas.usf.edu/species/details/91/viceroy. 4. Scharpf, Lewis. “Viceroy (Limenitis Archippus).” Alabama Butterfly Atlas, 2016, alabama.butterflyatlas.usf.edu/species/details/91/viceroy. 5. Sourakov, Andrei. Ventral View of the Wings of an Adult Male Viceroy, Limenitis Archippus Floridensis Strecker. 2009, entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/viceroy.htm. Accessed 25 Sept. 2020. Sources from the Eco-Postcards, Repeated Here for Reference 1. About Animals. Viceroy Butterfly: Deceiving the Birdseye. 2018, www.aboutanimals.com/insect/viceroy-butterfly/. 2. Adirondacks Forever Wild. “Butterflies of the Adirondacks: Viceroy (Limenitis Archippus).” Adirondack Butterflies: Viceroy | Limenitis Archippus), 2020, wildadirondacks.org/adirondack-butterflies-viceroy-limenitis-archippus.html. 3.The BugLady. Viceroy Butterfly Revisited (Family Nymphalidae). 11 Mar. 2017, uwm.edu/field-station/viceroy-butterfly-revisited/. 4. Herridge, Linda. Pollinators at Kennedy Space Center. 13 Mar. 2020, www.nasa.gov/feature/pollinators-at-kennedy-space-center. 5. Kautz, Liz. VICEROY. 23 May 2016, www.thecaterpillarlab.org/single-post/2016/05/23/VICEROY. 6. The Mortem Arboretum. Plant Galls. 2020, www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-and-plant-advice/help-pests/plant-galls. 7. Nature Works. Viceroy Butterfly - Limenitis Archippus - NatureWorks. 2020, www.nhptv.org/natureworks/viceroy.htm. 8. Sourakov, Andrei. Common Name: Viceroy Butterfly Scientific Name: Limenitis Archippus (Cramer) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Limenitidinae). Aug. 2015, entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/viceroy.htm. 9. University of Kentucky. Viceroy Butterfly. oepos.ca.uky.edu/content/viceroy-butterfly.