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An essay by Elizabeth Brightwen

Tame Butterflies

Title:     Tame Butterflies
Author: Elizabeth Brightwen [More Titles by Brightwen]

In _The Century_, for June, 1883, Mr. Gosse described a monument, in which the sculptor had carved a child holding out her hand for butterflies to perch on. He went on to say that this was criticised as improbable, even by so exact an observer as the late Lord Tennyson. It may therefore be of some interest to record the following facts from my personal experience.

One summer I watched the larvae of the swallow-tailed butterfly through their different stages, and reserved two chrysalides to develop into the perfect insect. In due time one of these fairy-like creatures came out. I placed it in a small Indian cage, made of fine threads of bamboo. A carpet of soft moss and a vase of flowers in the centre made a pleasant home for my tiny "Psyche."

I found that she greatly enjoyed a repast of honey; when some was placed on a leaf within her reach, she would uncoil her long proboscis and draw up the sweet food with great apparent enjoyment.

She was so tame that it became my habit, once or twice a day, to take her on my finger; and while I walked in the garden she would take short flights hither and thither, but was always content to mount upon my hand again. She would come on my finger of her own accord, and, if the day was bright, would remain there as long as I had patience to carry her, with her wings outspread, basking in the sunbeams, which appeared to convey exquisite delight to the delicate little creature.

I never touched her beautiful wings. She never fluttered or showed any wish to escape, but lived three weeks of tranquil life in her tiny home; and then having, as I suppose, reached the limit of butterfly existence, she quietly ceased to live.

On the day of her death the other butterfly emerged, and lived for the same length of time. Both were equally tame, but the second showed more intelligence, for she discovered that by folding her wings together she could easily walk between the slender bars of the cage; and having done so she would fly to a window, and remain there basking in the sun, folding and unfolding her wings with evident enjoyment, until I presented my finger, when she would immediately step upon it and be carried back to her cage.

The tameness of these butterflies I ascribed in great measure to the fact of their having been hatched from chrysalides, and having therefore never known the sweets of liberty. I often wondered if really wild specimens could be won by gentle kindness and made happy in confinement, and one bright summer's day I resolved to try. A "Painted Lady" had been seen in the garden the day before, and I soon caught sight of her making rapid flights from one bed of flowers to another, and when resting for a few minutes, folding and unfolding her wings on the gravel path, I crept slowly up to her with a drop of honey on my finger to try and make friends; but my "lady" was coy, "she would and she wouldn't," and after letting me come within a few inches with my tempting repast, she floated away, out of sight, and I feared she would not be willing to give me another chance; however, I waited quietly, and in a few minutes she alighted at a little distance. I again drew near very slowly, and again she sailed away, but the third time she gained confidence enough to reach out her proboscis and taste the honey, and finally crept upon my finger. I very gently placed the light bamboo cage over her and brought her indoors; she, all the while, entranced with the sweet food, remained quietly on my finger, and when satisfied, crept upon a flower in the middle of the cage, and after a few flutterings round her cage seemed content and folded her delicate wings to rest. Whilst engaged in her capture I had observed a "Red Admiral" hovering over some dahlias, and thinking "Cynthia"[2] might like a companion, I tried my blandishments upon him. I had not much hope of success, for though a bold, fearless fellow, he is very wary, and his powerful wings bear him away in swift flight when alarmed. Many a circle did I make around that dahlia bed! "Admiral" always preferred the opposite side to where I stood, and calmly crossed over whilst I went round. At last, by long and patient waiting, he, too, allowed me to come near and present my seductive food to his notice--the wiry proboscis was uncoiled and felt about for the honey; once plunged into that, all volition seemed to cease, he allowed me to coax him upon my finger, and he, too, was safely caged; but he behaved very differently from "fair Cynthia." The moment his repast was ended he flapped with desperate force against the bars, and in a minute he was out and on the window-pane, fluttering to escape. The cage had to be secured with fine net, and he was replaced and soon quieted down. Twice a day these delicate little pets would come upon my hand to receive their sweet food, and appeared perfectly content in captivity.

[Footnote 2: The former Latin name for the "Painted Lady" butterfly]

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Elizabeth Brightwen's essay: Tame Butterflies