I spent an hour on the 'phone, during work time and at national rate, all because of a bloomin' butterfly. The little insect has been lodging on the landing since the autumn, just latched on to the wall under the window. Then it woke up -- in January, bad idea. I didn't even know that butterflies survived the winter in adult form, they're so fragile I sort of assumed that they all died off and only eggs or pupae hatched in the spring. So the butterfly, a Red Admiral or Peacock, I can't tell which is which, started flapping weakly on the landing, this wasn't good; for one thing was likely to get trodden on or starve or -- most likely -- get turned into deeply fascinating but short lasting cat toy; butterflies are about Spookie's level of prey. My knowledge of them is limited but it seemed such a shame to just let it die if there was something I could do so I put a little saucer of honey in front of it, a cloche of a biscuit tin over it and got out the 'phone book. Nothing in the index for 'Butterflies, care and feeding thereof' or 'Vet -- small animals (and stray butterflies)' so I called Chester Zoo.
It took forever to negotiate my way through the automatic "if you have a star on your dial, press now" system which seems to have infiltrated most switchboards and get to a real live operator. She didn't seem at all fazed by my call -- perhaps they frequently get calls from dotty women with stray insects wombling about their houses? She put me through to the invertebrate house who were nice but had no more idea about what to do than I did, they gave me the phone number of London Zoo -- they have all manner of specialists. So it was call number two and another automated system to slowly negotiate. The operator tried to contact their insect specialist but he wasn't answering the 'phone (probably sick of his important and well paid research work being interrupted by dotty old butterfly lovers) so she gave me the number of the London Butterfly house. Automated system number three. Aargh! I was really going off the idea of helping out my little fluttering friend -- especially as I expected to be told that there was nothing I could do and to put it out of it's misery. But, eventually, success! A human voice and, at last, a butterfly expert, Dave. He didn't seem to think I was at all mad and told me to feed it some honey diluted with water then to get it into a cool, dark, dank place -- anywhere in our house, really, to (hopefully) go back into hibernation until the spring.
So I diluted the honey, placed it and the butterfly in one of the drawers from a little Ikea storage box-just the right size and with a built in ventilation home (oh, and a fannish connection too!) a paper lid to keep it in then a new home in a dark corner of the spare room. When I looked in on it the following morning it had drank all the honey water and was sat on the edge of the saucer (in the sort of expectant pose I normally expect a certain obese feline to be in.) I put some more honey water it, Dave-the-butterfly-man told me to feed it up well, the plan being to lift the water out and, with luck, it will go back into hibernation until the spring. Then I began to agonise, what if I overfed it? I mean, I obviously overfeed both Spookie and myself, the thought of an obese butterfly... it'd never get off the ground for a start or maybe it won't go back too sleep if it's too full, it'll just sit there, waiting for me to supply it with more honey water and we are almost out of honey and I'm not buying a whole new jar for one blasted butterfly... Then I started to worry about the ventilation hole. It's a decent size so my little visitor won't suffocate but is too small for it to make an escape bid from. However, it is a large enough hole for one of the massive house spiders Spookie is so bad at catching to break in and have itself a meal on the fly -- sudden panicked thoughts of lifting the paper in the spring and finding only a pair of wings and a well satisfied spider. A net curtain over the hole will hopefully act as a barrier.
So a corner of the spare room has an Ikea drawer with a little paper lid, a net over it and a little note reading 'Caution! Butterfly' just in case I forget what the little tableau is about. As if. Am I soft or what? Though I am the woman who burst into tears when a particularly huge and fine bumble bee bimbled into a gas flame on the kitchen and burnt off all its hair, wings, legs-it just lay there, buzzing sadly until I put my foot down on it -- can you imagine the vet's response if I'd rushed that in as an emergency case!
If I open the box up in the spring and find out that the little bug has curled up its toes I will be so upset! (If you see me in tears at Eastercon, you will know why.)
-- Sue Mason
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