In the desert we have butterflies that resemble leaves more than our leaves do. All of the desert plants have adapted to minimize water loss to deal with the scarcity of rainfall, though I know one transplanted desert feline who will be happy to see the backside of the monsoon storms.
An American snout enjoys the remains of lantana fruit in our backyard. After the monsoons this summer and fall when the flowers were in full bloom I’d close my mouth as I walked past this bush to make sure I didn’t accidentally inhale a butterfly from the mob that flittered about. We recently had landscapers dig up the many bougainvillea plants in the backyard and a couple of palms that had died or were struggling, initially I was unsure on whether to keep the lantana but after seeing how the butterflies loved it I decided to keep them.
I woke up early one morning in August and couldn’t get back to sleep so I went out for a short hike before work, feeling a rush of euphoria as I got a glimpse of what it must be like to be an early bird in a world designed for them. I met a couple of butterflies as the sun crested the mountains, including this Mormon metalmark set in a sea of wings. The plant was so distinctive I thought it would be easy to identify but it took me a while as at first I was looking at plants with red flowers, but thanks to Marianne Skov Jensen’s excellent field guide of the plants of the preserve I realized the red wings are part of the seed pod and the plant is slender janusia.
After returning home for breakfast and heading into work, I knew I’d pay for my early start and indeed left early that afternoon while my energy levels were still good so I could crash on the couch instead of the road. The night owl has been re-asserting himself the past couple of years so early mornings like this have not been as common as our first year here.
As the butterfly turned and spread its wings into the light of the rising sun, I could see how its wings resembled fallen leaves with uneven edges and transparent sections that mimic areas that have rotted away leaving only the veins. The disguise might be more effective in the forest than the desert where the leaves tend to be rather tiny.