The tragedy of the Empress Moth
It was our second spring in paradise, beautiful Korčula in the Adriatic sea. It was like watching a favourite movie for the second time. Maybe I did not experience exactly the same wonder, but I was able to see more and I could understand better of what was going on. The main thing about spring, off course, is new life. Baby animals, fragrant flowers, fresh grass, butterflies. Cuteness and colourful pretty things all around.
New life also means new food. In the case of Lexie and Liesje, our goats, new food was a relatively peaceful affair, even though their systematic hunt for the sweetest, prettiest flowers does seem a bit ruthless.
But that was nothing in comparison to our pet-predators, I mean, our cats. As I was typing this story, one of them caught and devoured a lizard, stealing Poro’s thunder with his catch of the week. He had come home with a female Emperor Moth, one of the biggest butterflies in all of Europe.
I was able to take the Empress from him. She sat still with her wings open, ready for us to admire her in all her beauty. As I thought she wouldn’t live, I was going to let her die peacefully in the freezer. Adjusting to cold is something natural to butterflies, so it would have felt less violent than Poro’s claws, I reckoned. But she was so pretty, and I needed to look at her a bit longer. Slowly she started closing her wings, which got me thinking that maybe she could survive. Quickly I put her in a box, and while preparing some honey water to give her strength, she started flapping her already torn wings ferociously.
Flapping wildly, she started to defeat gravity, but only enough to get out of the box. She landed on the counter, and then quickly in the sink where the foamy remains of dishwashing quickly wrapped themselves around the Empress. What Poro didn’t destroy, the water did. It washed the remaining stardust from the Empress’ majestic flying gear. And as everybody knows, butterflies are heavy like a brick without their stardust. Quite understandably, life without flying is no option to them. So maybe the Empress’ plunge was no bad luck after all, but rather a suicide. Live flying or die trying, a butterfly’s epitaph.
When the next day I tried to rescue a bird from Assepoes’ claws again, and when it then flew straight into the shy black claws of Sjena, I became a bit unsure about my interfering with nature. Maybe I should let my pet-predators have their way, as they will have it anyway. If only they had it with the mice in the shed, and not the birds, butterflies and lizards.
Spring again. Two years later. Our farm volunteers desperately needed a ride into town to replenish their cold beer stack, much deserved after a long sweaty day out in the April sun. I moved the large plastic container that I left in the car for weeks for no reason to the side so they had space to sit. We drove to the supermarket and when we got there, a couple of kids seemed occupied with something small on the concrete floor. A closer look showed us that it is a female Emperor Moth. It felt like it was her again, the Empress in all her splendour and once more in trouble. I could not help myself. I had to save her again.
Leptir, says the sweet cashier who came to check out what the fuss was about. It's the Croatian word for butterfly. She helped to move the empress into that container that I know now had a purpose all along. We carried her across the street to a lush field with spring flowers and gave her a spot in the sun to relax and regain her strength. Luckily she was in much better shape than last time we met and just maybe this time my meddling with her had a better outcome
Visuals provided by the author