I’m now on page 40 of Chasing Monarchs – Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage (1999, Houghton Mifflin Company). Robert Michael Pyle chronicles his months spent chasing monarchs on the west coast of the U.S., an effort to learn exactly what route they take in early autumn, from western Canada down to southern California, and perhaps for some, even further down to … Mexico. I’ve now read several books by Pyle, including Mariposa Road, Walking the High Ridge, and a book that he co-edited, Nabokov’s Butterflies. When you read a gifted writer, who shares your joy of butterflies, and who enjoys getting out THERE, as you do. What a treat!
So, Bob Pyle has me on the edge of my chair, and has me focused on … Monarchs. Danaus plexippus. Here he reintroduced me to a word that I have only seen once or twice before, aposematic. Monarchs are aposematic because they are insects that have a very bad taste, and, who are brightly colored to signal their bad taste to all who might otherwise attack and eat them. We have discussed this idea in earlier posts of Monarch butterflies, but now the correct term, which is useful.
This image of a Monarch female I rank among my Top 5 of the more than 65,000 that I have taken during my happy hunt for butterflies. She is spectacular. She reveals a tear in her right hindwing, but that indignity, cause never to be known, she still bears with much dignity. As with only certain royalty, she endures my approach (macro- to within 18″) with patience and aplomb.
Oh, I hope that her descendants return to the Asclepias wildflowers of the eastern U.S. this 2014. Whenever I am out, in the field, and the corner of my eye catches a glimpse of a flying monarch, even at this point in my life… that same excitement erupts. I begin to think, why are you getting so excited, haven’t you shot hundred of images of monarchs, it’s no use, no matter what, I swing around, ready to pursue. Why, because it might be the most beautiful monarch I have ever seen, or simply because it is a Monarch. Special. Extraordinary. Unique. Gorgeous!