Butterflies are embedded in our culture, symbols of beauty and peace and childhood and transformation or metamorphosis. Pretty butterflies cover all kinds of home decor, bed and bath linens and even dishes; they adorn the hair of little girls, flutter all over the fashions of females of all ages, and fill page after page of books.
Butterflies are the jewels of the garden, and countless books aim to teach us about the habits of butterflies so we can lure them with flowers, design gardens to please and attract them, with more books to help us identify these visitors with stained-glass wings.
But not everyone loves butterflies: Nicole Kidman famously expressed a fear of butterflies. While there isn’t a specific phobia name for this, a quick Google search comes up with the (unsubstantiated) information that this fear is related to Mottephobia (fear of moths) and Lepidopterophobia (a fear of the order of insects butterflies belong to). I feel bad for people with this phobia, because butterflies are everywhere.
There is a butterfly—or is it a moth?—on the cover of The Silence of the lambs, and butterflies are a recurring theme in mysteries and thrillers. Popular in book titles, the butterfly is usually a metaphor of one kind or another, as in Black Butterfly, Stone Butterfly, White Butterfly, Obsidian Butterfly, Paper Butterfly, and The Roar of the Butterflies.
Julia Alvarez modern classic, In the Time of the Butterflies has a politically charged take on the butterfly theme, while Diane Noble’s The Butterfly Farm features death by poisonous butterflies. Margaret Erhart’s The Butterflies of Grand Canyon features a lepidopterist and actual, rather than metaphorical, butterflies.
A book that took me by surprise was written by Peter Laufer, Ph.D., an award-winning author whose research has taken him to Iraq, to prisons in third world countries and countless other places that left him fatigued and depressed. He vowed his next book would be about butterflies and flowers—an ode to peace, he assumed. It turned out to something much more complex. Subtitled “The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors and Conservationists,” The Dangerous World of Butterflies is a fascinating investigation into butterfly smugglers, as well as the plight of the Monarch butterfly, and attempts by naturalists to breed endangered species and re-introduce them into the wild. Read Laufer’s book and you’ll never look at these winged wonders the same way again.
Are you a butterfly enthusiast? Or would you rather butterflies hang out in
someone else's yard?
Becke Davis is the senior writer for The Landscape Contractor magazine, a member of Garden Writers of America and the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association. She has written well over 1,000 published articles and is the author of five garden-related books in addition to being the moderator of B&N's Mystery book club.