By Mary | March 8, 2010 Get more on this article at:
The image of the butterfly can be seen everywhere in contemporary culture – on fabric prints and in rug designs, in posters and canvas wall prints, in brand logos, on china plates and tea services, in jewelry in television adverts, as children’s toys – everywhere really. For the most part in contemporary culture, the use of the butterfly image has very little symbolism attached to it. It is simply seen as a pretty, mainly feminine, motif. However in history the butterfly image has been used as a symbol to convey profound ideas or themes.
Obvious parallels with the observed life cycle of the butterfly lead to the most obvious symbolism. Both the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks are known to have placed golden butterflies in their tombs, associating the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis as a symbol of the soul and its resurrection, rebirth and immortality.
In Christian doctrines too, parallels have been drawn with the ever hungry caterpillar stage associated with man’s time on earth pursuing earthly pleasures and needs; the chrysalis here is a symbol of death and entombment whilst the butterfly stage represents the soul being reborn in heaven, no longer trapped by earthly concerns. This has been shown by the marking of a butterfly on ancient Christian tombs, and in some Christian art.
In oriental culture too, the butterfly is seen to represent the soul, but also and interestingly the butterfly is a symbol of love. As one Japanese superstition goes, if a butterfly comes into your guestroom and perches behind the bamboo, screen you will be visited by the person you love the most; and in Chinese culture when two butterflies are seen flying together they are said to be a symbol of love.
Perhaps this link between the immortal soul and love is not so unusual; indeed, in ancient Greek mythology the goddess Psyche who represents the “soul” is often depicted as a butterfly, and she is eternally linked to the god of love Eros in a never-ending passionate union.
Perhaps also this union of the soul and love in the butterfly makes sense in light of the ultimate symbolic attribute of the butterfly, which is faith. In the butterfly’s life cycle we can see an unshakeable, graceful and elegant certainty – that despite these seemingly different and difficult transitions in life, the butterfly emerges transformed – completely changed and much more beautiful for it.
By Mary | March 7, 2010
Thanks to its fascinating life cycle butterflies have always represented the transformative energy of life, but do you know the exact stages of a butterfly’s life cycle? And do you know that each stage of that cycle serves an important purpose in the butterfly’s development – just like the different stages in human development?
There are four stages in a butterfly’s life cycle.
The first stage is when the insect is just a tiny egg. Butterfly eg gs vary in shape and size depending on the type of butterfly – they can be round, oval or cylindrical. You will usually find butterfly eggs on plant leaves or stems, usually on a plant that the butterfly knows will be food for its future offspring. Nothing much happens during the egg stage – nothing visible anyway – but just like human babies in the womb inside the egg a tiny caterpillar is growing.
The second stage is the caterpillar or larva stage – the egg hatches to reveal a small worm-like caterpillar. At this stage the future butterfly looks nothing like a butterfly – in fact, if humans hadn’t observed these different stages no one would even guess that a caterpillar had anything to do with a butterfly! Whilst caterpillars can cover quite some distance on the ground, from plant to plant, on the whole they stay close to where they were hatched. The caterpillar’s job is to eat and grow, and learn about its surroundings. During this stage, as it eats and grows, the caterpillar sheds its skin several times to make room for all these growth spurts. Just like human children, caterpillars grow at an alarming rate!
The third stage is the chrysalis or pupa stage. Once the caterpillar has grown to its optimum size, it locates a comfortable place to rest and cocoons itself entirely in a skin-like silk cover. Inside this cover a miraculous transformation takes place – the caterpillar tissue disintegrates and the butterfly’s body and wings grow. This stage is a bit like how teenagers often retreat to their rooms for a few years, experiment with different attitudes, clothes and hairstyles, and then eventually come out again as young fairly well formed adults! The difference is that for butterflies this stage only takes a few weeks!
The final stage is the adult or imago stage, when the beautiful butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. The butterfly is now ready to really explore the world, takes flight on its fresh wings and goes off in search of a mate and possibly a new place to live. In time the butterfly will also lay new eggs and so the cycle starts again. In the same way, human adults seem programmed to spend some time learning and growing before they are ready to explore their environment and be free to make their own way in the world.
By Mary | March 10, 2010
There are hundreds of thousands of different types of butterflies on earth, so it’s an almost impossible takes to try to choose my favorites but there are a few which inspire me more than others – and which would be great as a base for art and craft projects.
Blue Morpho (Morpho menelaus)
Originating in South America, the gorgeous metallic, blue-green hues of the Morpho menelaus butterfly has made it a hugely popular one – it is one of the most commonly displayed butterflies in the world, and is often the base for inspiration for jeweler and art. There are in fact over 80 species in the Morpho genus – and not all Morpho butterflies have that amazing blue color, the Sunset Morpho (Morpho hecuba) for example is in melting tones of orange, russet and dark brown. Nevertheless the Blue Morpho seems to be by far the most enchanting of the species – just imagine how sublime it would be to be surrounded by a rabble of these shimmering butterflies. By the way, that shimmering is due to the iridescent nature of the scales that cover the Morpho’s wings, and not the pigmentation alone.
The Green Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus poseidon)
The Green Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus poseidon) is part of the large group of birdwing butterflies which are named such thanks to their huge size (up to a maximum body length of 7.6 cm or 3 inches and a wingspan of 28 cm or 11 inches), their more angular wings and birdlike flying pattern. Having never seen one in real life, for me the idea of a butterfly being as large as an A4 sheet of paper just blows my mind. The other great things I like about the Green Birdwing is that it has a wonderful large yellow body – quite different from most butterflies and the markings on its wings are rather lovely. These butterflies originate in the Pacific around Southeast Asia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Australia.
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
After butterflies, my next favourite animal is a zebra, so mix the two together and what’s not to like! This is a truly delightful butterfly – graceful looking and delicate (indeed the upper parts of the wings are almost totally clear and you can see right through them). There are at least 550 species of swallowtail butterfly) – all of them distinctive for their long-tailed lower wings! The Zebra Swallowtail is mostly found in the eastern Untied States, northeast Mexico and southeast Canada – and it is the official state butterfly of Tennessee. I think its fabulous striped black and white markings with that flash of red at the base of the lower wings makes it a great favorite for arts and crafts projects – you could play around with the monochrome effect sapping the white areas for other colors, rather like a Warhol print.
Comet Moth (Argema mittrei)
Although technically a moth, the Comet certainly deserves a place in the list of favourite butterflies. It’s beautiful markings, long distinctive tails and wonderful buttery yellow colour are just a few reasons why I find the Comet so inspiring. Like so many extraordinary creatures, Comet Months are found only in certain parts of Madagascar – and they only live for 4 to 5 days after emerging from their cocoons. A rare and beautiful sight indeed!
My final favorite butterfly is not a real one! I just loved as a kid doing butterfly paintings – and now look forward to doing them with my nieces. All you need is a large piece of paper and some poster paint. Fold the paper in half landscape ways and then simply apply different blobs of colorful paint in a random pattern (roughly the shape of one side of a butterfly) but just on one side of the paper! Finally before the paint dries, fold the paper back again and then carefully unfold it to reveal the symmetrical butterfly wings – when the paint is dried, add a head, body and antenna to finish your butterfly.