I was looking for an excuse to post the larger photo below and realised that I had just posted another ‘Common’ butterfly – Bingo!
Seriously, this is quite a common and widespread species. Its alternate name refers to its females, which occur in a wide range of colour forms (I have a whole lot of them here).
The males are consistently brown underneath with white markings, and black above with white eye-spots which flare blue-purple from some angles.
Males are territorial and will perch on some convenient vantage point ready to pursue any females and drive off any rivals, but they interpret ‘rivals’ very broadly indeed – not only males of their own species, but medium to large butterflies of any species (I’ve seen them harassing Cairns Birdwings, which are at least twice as big) and even dogs and people.
Most of my photography is done with strictly documentary purposes in mind but it is nice to relax a bit and play with images. I desaturated the one below and then played a bit longer until it pleased me.
We are lucky enough to have butterflies in our garden all year round but there are distinct seasonal changes. The Crow, for instance, is a regular dry-season visitor but much less common in the Wet. I took the photo above a couple of weeks ago, i.e. a couple of weeks after the last of our heavy rain, and the one below at a similar time last year.
Most of us automatically make a huge distinction between people – ‘us’ – and animals – ‘them’ – but is that really justifiable? When we look at the question instead of taking the answer for granted, the gap shrinks dramatically.
First, we are compelled to realise that we are animals, big monkeys in fact, so the distinction is between ‘people’ and ‘other animals’. That step may seem small now but it split England right down the middle 150 years ago when Darwin published his Origin of Species.
Second, the more we learn about other animals, the more we find that they possess abilities which we believed were uniquely human. Tool use? Yes – not only apes, but crows, dolphins and many other species (see wired.com). Language? We’re not sure about dolphins and whales because we don’t understand them, but several apes have been taught human sign language and used it fluently. Learning and culture? Yes, young orangutans need to learn foraging skills from older members of their family or they won’t survive in the wild- see orangutan.org. (This, sadly, has been a problem with releasing captive-reared orphans back into the jungle.)
Self-awareness, a sense of individuality, was long thought to be uniquely human but that, too, has been undermined. The ‘mirror test’ (wikipedia), which looks for evidence that an animal recognises itself in a mirror, has been passed by several species.
Now some researchers have gone a step further and shown that chimpanzees can learn simple computer games which rely on the player’s ability to anticipate the effect of his actions on his surroundings (physorg.com).
So we are not so special after all.
Why does all this matter to me in terms of the environment? Simply that the more we see ourselves as separate from the natural world, the freer we feel to exploit it, to harm it and to ignore it. If we acknowledge every living thing in the world as our kin, on the other hand, we will tend to live according to our kinship obligations.
‘Us’ is a loose concept which we understand according to context – ‘my immediate family’, ‘our team’, ‘the company we work for’, or ‘all Australians’ – but it is a powerful one.
When all people are ‘us’, not ‘them’, we will acknowledge and (hopefully) fight for their rights.
When we realise at a gut level that harming any animal harms ‘us’, we will take more care of the living world.
It must be about time for another butterfly … here’s a species that I had never seen in my garden until a few days ago.
We do occasionally get butterflies that have been blown out of their usual territory and they are often rather tired and battered. This one turned up late one afternoon and all it wanted to do was sleep in the shadows under our native wisteria vine.
That posed a problem for the photographer, of course. Flash was essential. The solid black background is the consequence, as it usually is in such a situation; it’s not unattractive but I wouldn’t like to do it all the time because it shows nothing of the insect’s habitat.
I do have one shot of the Caper Gull on its home ground, on top of Mt Stuart, but its background happens to be nearly as uninformative – see?