Butterfly lovers were ecstatic about this week’s news that a species thought to be extinct is now fluttering around the UK.
This didn’t happen naturally. For five years, conservationists have been plotting the return of Reverdin’s blue (easy-to-pronounce nickname: Plebejus argrognomon). This was an active intervention in nature, similar to the present slaughter of sea lions in the Pacific Northwest in order to save salmon, but with much better optics.
Now, there’s much about this story that isn’t clear. For one thing, I have yet to find the answer to the most obvious question: If Reverdin’s blue was extinct, where did scientists get the 1,100 larvae that they released last year? (I will update in the comments if I come across this, and feel free to beat me to it if you know.)
But the bigger question is, how do you keep birds from eating them?
My own innocence in the matter of butterflies was lost a few years ago when I was walking along a country road and a butterfly wandered in front of me.
Entranced, I watched its graceful gyrations and momentarily forgot, as one does, that butterflies are insects, not so different from a mosquito or the brown marmorated stinkbug.
I fell into a dreamy reverie about cocoons and struggle and the caterpillar who thought the world was over until she became a butterfly so that publishers could print her inspiring story on notebooks and greeting cards across the world.
Just then, a cardinal swooped in and snapped up my beautiful metaphor for lunch, leaving me to contemplate a harsh truth. Butterflies almost always get eaten. They are the food sheaths that Joseph Campbell wrote about. We all are, as anyone familiar with the story of the Champawat tiger uncomfortably knows.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rage against the killing machine that is life. The newly un-extinct butterfly is gorgeous, and I for one am super-pumped for genetic-rescue scientists to bring back the T-Rex.
But I do wonder what the UK conservationists propose to do to keep the native birds from eating their lunch. Maybe there will be a massive mealworm distribution?