Saturday, May 3, 2014

What monarch butterflies teach us

Answer:  That each and every species is similarly characterized by a natural and unchangeable range in individual ability to thrive.
I bet you were assuming that I was going to say something along the lines of "that we should love and cherish Mother Earth and conserve her precious resources".  But that would be a shallow analysis, indeed.    
Ten days ago, I did not predict a good outcome for this particular caterpillar, who chose to attach her cocoon rather haphazardly to the side of this large planter.  It fell way short of an ideal location, exposed to both the weather and potential sources of physical damage (e.g., my running dog brushing up against the planter).  The individual in the cocoon surprised me by emerging in the visibly flawless condition shown above, but then failed to display physical vigor.  I could have easily reached out and grabbed her, as she seemed to lack a reasonable startle reaction.

This is what I've noticed most strikingly after a few years of fostering monarchs - an incredible diversity of competency when it comes to executing the basic functions of their life cycle.  They come from the same parents at the same time in the same environmental conditions with the same unlimited food source, and yet their individual outcomes are always wildly different.  Some of them do the most inexplicably boneheaded things (even though they don't have bones).  Sometimes as I am talking to them I ask, "Dude, what were you thinking?!  You can't possibly survive in your own self-selected conditions.  Why would you intentionally throw your own life away like that?!"

Of course, I have asked the same question verbatim of a number of people in my life, as human being show exactly the same diversity in competence when it comes to executing their life cycles.  It's all just a reflection of that most fundamental property of all life:  the DNA naturally produces a riot of possibilities, some of which will ultimately be selected for, and some of which will not, and there's nothing that anybody could (or should) do to change that. I suppose I just expected a narrower range in outcome possibilities in a much-less-complex organism such as a monarch butterfly.  But no.  This is how we all are, bones or no bones.  
He makes my latest butterfly look tame on the issue of self-preservation.  

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