In early fall the butterflies seem most prevalent here, fluttering among the squash vines and cabbages on the verge of the creek ravine, teasing the sedge and tall grasses along the edge of the paving behind our university guesthouse apartment, flicking up from knee-level to tree-tops and back in giddy swoops. I know the Cabbage White, common but decorative in its pure colour, like petals, and the Yellow Swallowtail, gaudy in scallops and dots. But for others even the power of Google fails me.
Last weekend a huge pure black butterfly visited our barbeque and spent time hovering like a hummingbird over the rambling wildflowers. Nearly the size of my hand, with elaborately curved, heavy wings, as if it had been cut from velvet…I didn’t wonder that our visitors seized their cellphones and tried to capture its splendor. Against the green and purple of the swamp blooms it stood out magnificently.
And today I was privileged to feed a butterfly from my fingertips. As I lounged on our lawn swing (a rare privilege itself for a Korean resident – most people have apartments, not houses with private lawns) reading a linguistics textbook, a tiny butterfly came dancing past my face. Curious, I laid down my book and reached out my hand, fingers upward. It landed on my index and did not immediately dash off again, instead folding its wings upward and extending its proboscis.
I brought my hand up to look at it more closely, as it calmly investigated the grooves of my fingerprint and the join of my nailbed. The underside of its wings were a soft grey, flushed faintly with blue near the body, dappled with a few black spots, and decorated along the top edges with a surprising row of orange rosettes. The topside it mostly kept hidden, the faces together over its back, but as I tilted my hand in the afternoon sun, the wings fluttered out long enough for me to see their hue; a dusty faded blue, almost a periwinkle, trimmed all around with black and then white, for all the world like a child’s butterfly sticker. The body itself was a delicately-white-furred taper, brushed with the same faded blue, while the short furred legs were a greyish-white.
It stayed with me, happy to move from finger to finger, the little legs splayed in a secure stance, the hair-fine proboscis tapping and curling. What it was that kept it feeding from my fingers – literally – I do not know. Minute skin oils or flakes? Traces (of what could be scarcely more than the odour) of the fruit-and-granola bar I had eaten after lunch? The natural salts of my body?
I watched it, absorbing the details, storing away the colour and beauty for, perhaps, a time in the dark winter months when I would want it again, memorizing its minute, perfect, shape, appreciating its simple presence with me. A good five minutes it stayed, and then, a flick of wings lifting it away, it was gone back to the grasses and the sunshine.
Inside, later, I found pictures on the net that matched my little visitor.
Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus), most probably Plebejus argus seoki specifically, say all the links. A lame choice of nomenclature, like a cheap paint chip… and the Latin is no better, meaning ‘common-eyed’ – rather unimaginative names for a dainty bit of evening sky!