Saturday, July 16, 2011

Butterflies: Nature’s Financial Planners


For reasons perhaps too complex for mere humans to fully understand, monarch butterflies, like many birds, migrate north and south with the seasons. They’re the only species of butterfly that does so.1

Hundreds of thousands of butterflies—perhaps millions; it’s really tough to count them because of all the fluttering and flapping, and their looking exactly the same from more than about six inches away—winter over in the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary, a forested mountainside outside of Valle de Bravo, Mexico, some two hours2 west of Mexico City.

Tourists fortunate enough to visit Valle de Bravo can, with the help of local guides, hike up the mountainside to view the remarkable sight of swarms of monarch butterflies in their winter habitat, their bright wings swirling in the quiet sky like cascades of autumn leaves.

Perhaps more remarkable is that no single butterfly actually survives long enough to return home. The round trip takes several times longer than the typical two-month lifespan of the monarch butterfly, so an entire migration can span some three to four generations.3

What we have here, then, are creatures with the foresight to act in a way that is not particularly useful—or even detrimental—to themselves, but are vastly beneficial to future generations. The monarch butterfly has no written language, no history, and a brain smaller than a toenail clipping, and lives (as far as we can tell) almost purely by instinct, but has the insight to work for the good of descendents that it’s certain never to meet.

We wonder what that’s like.

Butterfly photos by Dr. Mrs. Some Guy.
1. At least among the species we’ve interviewed.
2. Or four and a half hours, if your driver isn’t sure where he’s going and the major highway is closed.
3. We welcome quibbling with our facts from the butterfly experts amongst our readership. We readily acknowledge that we are not scientists, and presume that the authors of the Wikipedia page we’re reading aren’t either.

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