It’s tempting to assume other living things experience the world pretty much as we do. While resizing this picture, I was thinking how much fun butterflies must have in a flower meadow – swinging on flowers while they sip a little nectar, perhaps comparing flavours and seeking out the ones they like best, then fluttering off to the next field…
I was brought down to earth by learning that they don’t have mouths – what I’d thought of as a long, sensitive tongue turns out to be more like a straw. Butterflies decide what to land on by sight, then use chemical receptors in their feet to work out if it’s worth staying or not.
Butterfly or Person Checklist
I try not to envy people, but when it comes to creatures, I do sometimes imagine what life might be like for them. For example, would I prefer:
To be able to fly? Yes please!
Colourful wings? Might be nice, assuming one could fold them away.
To be nearsighted? Tick – got that!
To be able to see ultraviolet light? I’d try it for an hour in a flower field.
A straw rather than a mouth? Nope. Just asking for trouble.
Taste receptors on my feet? After yesterday’s seven mile walk around the Tolkien Trail, I don’t think so! If they were all I had – and were washed by the dew on flowers – I’d make the most of them.
To be mature for just a few weeks? No, I like getting older. It’s great.
You’ve guessed it, I’m happy to be human, but my humanity cries out that science can only tell us so much.
I find it hard to believe that the exchange of service for service in nature is merely a cold transaction: that butterflies find no delight in those brief, miraculous days when they can fly, mate, and sip nectar from flowers, pollinating them as they brush by.