Butterfly notions


An illustration of many multi-coloured butterflies on a white panelled wall.

A twitter writing prompt filled my head with butterflies. The word was fritillary, which I expected to mean lace, but refers to spots on dice.


These fritillary names opened imagined wings, pearl-bordered and silver-washed, soon joined by other British butterflies: hairstreaks and ringlets, skippers and arguses, gatekeepers and commas. Names regal, common, or cryptic.


Each suggested character, intent. Tickling my brain, instead of my tummy.


Butterflies are symbols of the soul, and you never know whose they carry. They are magical fire. They listen to wishes. They’re stories of transformation, and transience. The first butterfly of the year shows you weather to come. The number of spots on a wing measures the loot coming your way. A butterfly in your home is a portent that a loved one will visit, or leave. Gosh, a butterfly might be a witch in disguise.

We shall not dwell on nets and pins, glass cases nor neat labels.


Butterflies are metaphors for happiness and freedom, but also caprice, flashy dressing, and gregariousness. They are kisses. Poets call them flowers in flight. Scientists gift butterflies unexpected consequences. Only a butterfly can illustrate chaos while demonstrating symmetry.


Their collective noun is a kaleidoscope. Most of the colours they show us are a trick of the light on scaled wings. Butterflies cannot see them. When they land on you, they can taste you with their feet.


Luckily for us, they’ve been called butterflies so long we can only speculate why.


When I was a child, I was taught to call them flutterbies. I could greet a Red Admiral or a Cabbage White by name. Now I wouldn’t know who I was talking to. How rude.


But there’s more summer yet to come. Where I live, I have 43 new friends to make. I hope to call on Chalk Hill Blue, Clouded Yellow and the Duke of Burgundy.



'How does one become butterfly?' Pooh asked pensively.

'You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar,' Piglet replied.

― A.A. Milne



Image by Nick Fewings - art on Bournemouth Pier