Contemplating a Hairstreak Butterfly

Contemplating a Hairstreak Butterfly

This little Gray Hairstreak butterfly sat obligingly for a photo op in North Vancouver’s Seymour Conservation Reserve the other day. I noticed it fluttering around my ankles and knees, as if it was playing. Then it flew to a log and sat for this portrait.

We don’t see many hairstreaks around here. Vancouver sits at the northern edge of their range. And even then, how often would we truly notice one anyway? We’d likely be staring at a little screen, or lost in worries or hustling to get to some important appointment.

Contemplating a butterfly is a good exercise in present-moment living. If you see one land on a flower or leaf, take time to study its improbable patterns, or the proportioned symmetry of its four wings. The delicate colored powder, like talc. The segmented body.

Look at the brilliant corner splashes on this hairstreak. The black and white spots. The precise stripes of its antennae with their orange tips. Notice how the gray of its wings blends with the log.

I like to ponder the butterfly’s life cycle, how it transitions from egg to caterpillar to pupa, before emerging in spring to become this delicate, fluttering evolutionary miracle. One day the caterpillar simply stops eating. It hangs from a twig or a leaf (how does it know?), and it molts into that shiny thing called a chrysalis, or pupa. Lepidopterists, those lucky people who get to study butterflies for a living, tell us the caterpillar actually digests itself inside the chrysalis (or in the case of a moth, inside the silk cocoon). The cells rearrange and…voila! Out comes a beautiful butterfly or moth. Yep, miracles all around us.

It’s worth considering, and wondering with some awe and reverence, just how these fragile creatures prevail. Birds eat them, cars smash them, pesticides obliterate them. And if they happen to survive those threats, how do they find one another to mate? Buffeted by winds and rain, and with a  short adult lifespan (some only a week), they must act fast to find one another.

After hanging with me for a while, I hope this little hairstreak had a lucky afternoon…