THE BIRTH OF A YOUNG LORD
One very hot day in July, Mrs. Papilio1 decided to give a select party.16
And it was very select, I assure you; for none but the swallowtail family were invited.
Now this family are noted for their fine array, there being over three hundred different styles of dress among them; and had all the guests that were invited accepted, Mrs. Papilios garden could not have held one half of them.
The list was headed with the names of Lord and Lady Asterias;2so they came early.
I was glad of this, for it gave me a very good opportunity to watch their movements; and so pleased was I with their fine appearance that I hardly cast a glance at any other member of the party.
My lord and lady came sailing in upon their four showy wings (the hind wings of each having tails), and seated themselves at once near a bed of parsley.
My lord was gayly dressed in a black swallowtail suit, banded with a double row of bright-yellow spots; and on each of the hind wings was a row
1 Pa-pil´i-o. The Latin name of the butterfly.
2 As-te´ri-as. The name of a peculiar species or kind of butterfly.
of seven blue spots between the outer and the inner line of yellow ones.
But this was not all; for on the lower, inner edge of the tail wings was an eyelike spot of orange yellow, having a black center.
He also had a double row of bright-yellow spots on his back that looked like gold buttons, and his shining black head was adorned with the same color.
Gold and black, black and gold,ah, it was a fine suit indeed! You should have seen it.
My lady was dressed in about the same style,
but she had not so many spots on her fore wings. I saw, at a glance, that she was a good deal larger than he; and I thought that maybe there had not been quite enough of the gilded band for both suits.
I noticed, also, that they each had six tiny legs, and that the hind pair had small spurs.
The antennæ were long and threadlike, and there was a knob at the end of each; they were not feathered like those of the moth.
As soon as my lady lit on the parsley bed, she folded all four of her wings together, so that they stood upright on her back. Then she slowly opened and closed then, as if trying to fan the hot July air.
Her mate lit very near her and did the same thing. But they did not remain quiet very long; for pretty soon my lady began to dart here and there about the parsley bed.
Then she stopped quite still, as if to say, This is just the place for my eggs. I like it much
better than the carrot, the parsnip, the celery, or even the sweet blossoms of the phlox.
Ah, said I to myself, so you are the mother of those hungry, pale green caterpillars that I find creeping about my garden, are you? I will watch those eggs of yours, my lady.
And I did watch them very carefully, but I did not have to wait long; for in a few days they were hatched, and oh, what tiny things the young caterpillars were!
Why, it would have taken ten of them, placed end to end, to make one inch in length.
But these babies, like their parents, were clad in fine array; and they had a number of pretty suits.
Their first suit was black, banded with white around the middle and bottom of the dress; but as they grew larger, this dress was cast aside for another.
And so they kept on, till they got the fourth suit; and this last outfit was very fine indeed. It was of an apple-green color, having black bands dotted with bright-yellow spots, and was much more showy than any of the other dresses that they had worn.
You would not wonder that they outgrew their clothed so quickly, could you have seen them eat.
There was a very large family of them, about two hundred in all;and with their sharp, hungry jaws they were not long in laying waste that fine bed of green parsley, you may be sure.
As each hungry baby had sixteen tiny legs, they found no trouble in creeping about, here, there, and everywhere.
I am obliged to say, right here, that they were
not very good-natured children either, for when I touched any one of them with a small stick, it would thrust out, from behind its head, a pair of orange-yellow horns.
And what was still worse, these horns gave out such a bad odor that I was glad to get away from it.
After a few days, they seemed to have lost their appetite; and did not care to eat. So they crept away to a clump of bushes near by.
Then I made a discovery. I found that each of these infants, young as it was, knew how to spin. It spun a silken thread, too. But where did it get its silk? I will tell you.
Each little spinner of this sort has, in the middle of its lower lip, a tiny tube. This tube opens into two long, slender bags inside of the spinners body.
These bags are filled with a sticky fluid that flows through the tube in a very fine stream; but as soon as the air strikes it, it becomes a strong, slender thread.
And so these baby spinners have everything at hand, quite ready for their work. As I could not well observe them all, I watched one of them carefully; and now let me tell you what he did.
First, he spun a small tuft of silk, and made it fast to the twig of a low bush. Then he put the
hooks of his hind feet into this tufted snare. Next he spun a strong, silken loop, made up of many threads, and glued the ends of it fast to the twig; but the ends were not glued very closely together. They were placed a little way apart, so as to make the loop broad and roomy.
It really did look as if this wise little creature was making a swing for itself.
But as soon as the loop was made strong enough, he put his head under it, and then worked it over his back. In this way, he bound himself in an upright position, close to the twig.
How strange that of his own choice he had become a helpless prisoner, bound hand and foot!
In about twenty-four hours, he cast off his apple-green suit, and became a pupa, or chrysalis. Then the skin of his body seemed to shrivel up, till it was like a strong, hard case; but it made a safe cradle for the baby to lie in.
And just such a cradle was needed; for it was now nearly October, and this tender infant must remain bound to that twig through all the long months of winter.
There would be no lullaby song to soothe it,
excepting such as the cold, wintry winds sing; and that is a very harsh song, as we all know.
Will it ever come to life? I asked myself, as I went from time to time and looked at the poor, helpless thing hanging there in its silken fetters, all alone.
But behold! One day in the early part of June, the dry hard pupa case burst open, and out came a poor, feeble, little butterfly, with four limp, moist wings.
Instead of sixteen legs it had but six; and in the place of sharp, hungry jaws it had a slender tongue.
Its great eyes seemed to be almost blinded by the sudden bright light; for, like the moth, it had not only two simple eyes on the top of its head, but it had the two large, compound eyes as well.
It crept slowly up to the top of the twig, and then the weak, drooping wings began to expand. Broader and broader they grew, till at last they were spread out firm and free.
And there, right before my astonished eyes, rose up a beautiful creature, clad in shining black; and I knew by the band of golden spots on all four of its wings that he was a young Lord Asterias!