The death of a butterfly

I was walking back home from campus one day, when about halfway during my trek I noticed an unusual sight, a large butterfly lying prostate on the sidewalk. It was a beautiful specimen; it had a large abdomen and thorax complimented by two huge, black wings dotted symmetrically by three blue spots. It was not flying.

No, it was fluttering weakly on the ground. One of it’s two wings had a clean diagonal cut in it. I stopped and watched it for a while, thinking that maybe it was confused or perhaps mistakenly spotted a source of food on the ground, but after twenty seconds or so it became apparent that something was seriously wrong with this butterfly.

“This butterfly is dying. It is suffering,” thought myself. My first reaction was to stomp on it and end it’s pain. I thought for a moment and decided that first I should attempt to move the butterfly onto some grass. Perhaps it would recover if introduced to something resembling nature. I can only guess that watching too much television will induce this type of thinking. Needless to say, after my gently prodding the butterfly onto the grass, it flapped briefly in vain and then lied (layed?) still.

At this point, I knew a decision had to be made. To stomp or not to stomp, that was the question. To some this question might be simple, but in my mind the gears were cranking and all sorts of meddlesome thoughts rose to the surface, like an itch that cant be scratched. Yes, the butterfly was in pain, but just as in humans, surely this butterflies life was sacred. Scoff you may, but being raised Catholic is no small potatoes. That’s silly, thought I, clearly insects are not humans and thus the same rules dont apply. It’s suffering, so kill it and put it out of its misery already!

At this point, the small part of my brain that concerns itself with mundane things expressed a concern. Surely smashing a bug this size will leave a sizable amount of goo on your shoes! Gasp! That’s true… and from there other thoughts popped up. For starters, I am no expert on butterly etymology. How am I to know if this butterfly is truly dying or not? Upon closer inspection of the wings, I found that what I thought was a cut was actually a gap. It had four wings, not two! Thus, I hadd no visible explanation as to the butterflies apparent downward spiral. I didn’t even know if this butterfly was dying or merely resting. I freely admitted my ignorance, yet my gut held fast to the premise that this butterfly was pining for the fjords.

All the while, fellow college students walked past me. My neurons firing nonstop, I was in a quandary over what to do. My dualistic nature paired with my uncertainty had produced a quandary. Should I kill it and end its pain, or does it have a right to life? Is it suffering or merely resting? Do I want a huge sticky mess on my shoe? Ooooooh, what shall I do!? Several people passed by without even noticing me.

A bus-stop was a mere ten feet away, so after a few minutes a couple stopped b y. Still unsure of my tentative decision to let it be, I decided to ask for advice from this pair of fellow college students. “Hey, did you see that butterfly over there?” I asked, in an awkward attempt to break the ice. “No,why dont you put it in an exhibit or something,” they curtly replied. Those troglodytes! Like a rock pitched into a lake of glass, the moment was ruined. I had no time to wait for the shards to receed, so with one last glance I gazed towards the butterfly and walked away.

I thought heavily about this encounter during the remaining part of the day. What really stuck in my mind was that, if I could get so worked up about the decision to end the life of a butterfly, then how much more so is the decision to end the life of a suffering person. There are questions in this world that have no easy answer. While I was gazing at a butterfly, after I prodded it and touched its velvety wings, the sheer wonder of this world enveloped me.

I am probably unclear, and for that I apologize. I wanted to share this experience with you and see what you all think. Goodnight :slight_smile:

I’m not convinced that insects suffer very much. They have a rudimentary nervous system and nociceptors (specialized nerve cells for transmitting pain), but their brains are so tiny and their nerves so sparse that the pain they experience is probably rudimentary as well.

There’s nothing you could’ve done. Be glad that it lacked the capacity to perceive its own mortality and fear the great unknown.

It’s always sad when we witness a thing of beauty perish though. It’s hard not to be reminded about the transience of life, or our own mortality.

The butterfly died on the grass. Or, when you were gone, it became food for something else. Either way – nature goes on. I don’t think I’d have killed it, either.

This is sort of a really personal question for me, I’ve taken great umbridge in the past about causing harm to that which has caused none upon you.

Maybe some people would see squashing the insects as an act of mercy, but coming from a guy who is still crazy over a fish, I couldn’t kill it.

lay still

The other past of lay is laid.


(Okay, that’s two grammar corrections in a row, allow this thread some lightheartedness)

I’m no butterfly expert, but don’t they slowly move their wings while on a warm surface lke a sidewalk to dry them? Especially after they first emerge from the cocoon? It may have been cold or damp, and in that case not killing it was the right choice.

It’s called basking.

Butterflies do this to regulate heat.

A section of wing and or scales missing, doesn’t mean the butterfly will quickly die. I had on around the garden for a couple weeks before it stopped coming around.

Like has been said they don’t move around to much in too hot weather.

Chances are you would have stomped a butterfly that had weeks of life left in it.

On the other hand you could be right:

I wouldn’t have killed it, and I think it’s just as well that you didn’t, though I admire your willingness to spend the effort of considering it so intently.

I had a similar situation a few weeks ago. It was also a large black butterfly. One of its wings seemed to be shriveled, like it flew too close to a flame and scorched it or the wing never properly expanded after emerging from its cocoon. It was trying to fly but vainly flopping around. I tried to pick it up to take it over to my hedges thinking it could bask there but it kept flopping toward my car. Eventually I just had to go ahead and leave, hoping I wouldn’t accidentally run it over. I didn’t see it when I came home later.

[sub]You guys get all nit picky over laying/layed/laid but you don’t even notice the prostate?[/sub]

That was a sweet beautiful post, Autolycus. And, no, I wouldn’t have stomped it to put it out of your percieved pain. That’s the cycle of nature, and, well, we don’t know so much about what really happens at death. Hopefully, that butterfly had laid it’s eggs, hatching many caterpillars and butterflies to come, and, even a butterfly’s death should happen at it’s own pace, life ebbing out as it has for millenia.

Chances are, from my observations, a bird, or astute praying mantis, will make the weakened butterfly a meal. If you had stomped it, it would still be a meal for ants, but, best to let things take their own ebb of life, that sustains life on down the chain.

I just read your post again, and the best I can come up with, is, that as all creatures have a right to life, they also have a right to death, in the manner that life courses here. In the natural course of things, the butterfly has a more dignified death by being part of the normal cycle of life that being stomped on. I think for you, too, because then you’ve stomped a butterfly, and that’s sad.

If it just came out of its cocoon, would it be that big?

Fight my ignorance here – do butterflies grow?

tdn, yes, they do. I’m seeing now some fresh young Black Swallowtail butterflies here, smaller than the older ones, who are now tattered and dying.

The baby cats, both swallowtails and monarchs, are going into the pupa stage this week, here in NC.

Auto, you are a superior form of human being for deigning to ask questions that most others (c.f. the passing troglodytes) wouldn’t ask. If the body was plump it may have been a moth BTW, exhausted after beating its body against some streetlight all night…