A peacock butterfly is the highlight of part three of the Rosthwaite to Dock Tarn series. This piece of nature writing can be read as a stand-alone piece; however, if you haven’t already done so, you may wish to read the previous two parts first, which are (oldest to most recent): The Clapping Wood Pigeon, and The Fiery Robin.
A Peacock Butterfly
Carrying straight on along the footpath, I arrive at a stretch of meadow that lies to my left between myself and the wooded fell-side. This particular stretch of meadow is deeply rich with floral colour, as if someone has taken a substantially large brush and splattered bright yellow, purple and white paint all over it.
Lured by the scents and colours of the wildflowers, a bounty of insects are active amid the meadow, pigging out on sugary nectar whilst inadvertently pollinating the blooms from which they quaff.
The peacock butterfly is perhaps the most stunning of them all. The fantastic combination of colour tones and patterns that beautify this butterfly cause it to look like a fairy-tale creature. Its torpedo-shaped main body is velvety and brown, a trait that spreads from the abdomen and onto the midsection of the upper surface of the hind wings where the brown is enriched with a heady touch of red.
At the top of the hind wings, also on the dorsal surface and adjacent to the abdomen, is a region that appears almost sparkly, as if liberally sprinkled with golden stardust. This galactic patch extends onto the forewings where it is confined close to the thorax and infused with pollen-like particles of orange.
Situated on the lower, outer corner of each hind wing is a mesmeric, iridescent, aqua blue eyespot encircled by a jet-black ring, which in turn is enclosed by a hazy, white halo, which is largely surrounded by almost-black grey. Cutting across the aqua blue centre are two parallel, pitch-black stripes, like the pupil of an other-worldly being.
The butterfly’s forewings, too, are each embellished with a seemingly luminescent eyespot. These ones are even bigger and bolder and are positioned in the upper, outermost corner. The circular central spot is a blend of black and dark red. Enclosing this spot on one side, the outermost side, is a broad, crescent-shaped, cyan-blue smudge that looks as if it has been drawn there in pastel. The smudge is divided up into sections by dark wing veins that run distinctly through it, each section like a windowpane through which a clear blue sky can be seen.
Enclosing the central spot on the opposite side, the side most proximate to the thorax, is another vaguely crescent-shaped area, but smaller in size. The points of both crescents meet to seal the black and red spot within. This smaller crescent, however, is filled with no kind of blue, rather it burns brilliantly with a shiny mix of white-hot yellow, gold and orange, like an open fire in a dimly lit room.
The whole eyespot is placed on a contrasting, black background, a black section of wing that extends from the upper, outer corner—the wing’s apex—to a point just beyond halfway between the apex and the thorax.
An inky red, the shade of fresh blood, floods the majority of the rest of the forewing, but floating on top, close to the outer edge, just below the eyespot, are two more drops of sky blue; and penetrating the red from the front of the wings are two small black marks, one on each wing, which together look like the tips of the Devil’s horns.
Spanning the anterior edge of each forewing from the thorax to the black section of the upper, outer corner, is an intricately striped strip of wing reminiscent of a zebra skin, but where the zebra is white the butterfly is the most opulent of golds. In stark contrast, the outer margins of both the fore and hind wings appear almost tatty, bearing a striking similarity to singed paper.
I patiently observe the dexterity of the peacock butterfly’s long, narrow, flexible proboscis, watching as it performs the supplest of movements. I imagine it caressing swollen nectaries in the deep recesses of the florets to coax them into secreting every last droplet of their sweet, sugary goodness. The butterfly’s usage of its proboscis is so deft that it is able to seek out and plunge its mouthpart into a great many nectar-filled nooks without it having to change its footing on the flower head in the slightest.
After the butterfly has systematically siphoned from every floret on the flower it flutters off to the next flowery feeding station, and with its departure, I, too, decide to continue to the next point of interest, wherever that may be.