This story of mine was published in HooplaClub, a Bangalore-based children's magazine. The original article follows below.
Walking under trees through the lanes of the butterfly park, Nature-buddy was listening to her children humming a tune when the wind took notice of a tree and shook its branches lightly. The sudden thick shower of pink blossoms and dry, brown leaves made them stop and look up. The tree had the last few spring leaves and a rich load of the pink beauties.
A beautiful shiny blue butterfly flew in and settled down on a piece of apple lying on the ground. Just as it folded its wings up to suck in the juice with its straw-like proboscis, Advaita cried out “The blue wings are brown now?!”
Diya, Advaita's younger sister went running towards the butterfly. Startled, it flew away in flashes of blue, disappearing every now and then amongst the trees and bushes.
“How is it appearing and disappearing so fast? Why does it look only blue when it flies?” Advaita asked, immensely surprised.
“It’s playing Hide and Seek!” Diya shrieked, clapping her hands gleefully.
“It’s magic - the butterfly doesn’t have blue in it at all,” Nature-buddy said mysteriously, adding after a pause, “Well, its wings have multiple layers of scales that have bumps on them which reflect the sunlight striking them in a way only the blue gets reflected which is why it got its name ‘blue morpho’. The layers lie on a colourless membrane. The underside of course is brown which you just saw.”
Diya sat down below the tree and dug into her backpack. As she shared her garlic butter sandwiches with her brother and Nature-buddy, another blue morpho came flying in. Its wings reflected blue but its brown was visible even when it kept flying. Advaita noticed and said “This one is both blue and brown even when it’s flying.”
“Its wings’ brown undersides help it to get lost in the forest foliage. So when it flies amongst bushes, as its wings flap continuously, they alternately reflect blue which makes them very visible and then again show the brown underside that helps them to camouflage themselves so they seem to disappear. This one’s very close to us, so we can see its brown as well.”
“Why aren’t they flying near the flowers, mamma?” Diya asked suddenly.
“That’s because their diet is usually logs of dead wood, fruits, fresh or rotting, and even wet mud.” Nature-buddy sure gave nasty surprises!
“Oh! They’ll stink!” Diya said, pinching her little nose.
“How are you so sure, mamma?” Advaita asked.
“Well, I knew this butterfly park has many blue morphos and that I’ll be showered with questions and so I flipped through the encyclopaedia for a day,” Nature-buddy replied. She got up, smiling her way through the line of trees, the two children following her.
There were huge cages around, housing colorful chirpy birds making a continuous noise as they fed on grains and corn.
Walking and looking around, the trio came upon a big board close to the exit gate that read out loud “Butterfly’s Life”. It had pictures of a blue morpho in different stages of its life. First the eggs, then the caterpillar feeding on leaves of plants of the pea family. Then the cocoon inside which the pupa lay still, sleeping away to glory. Then the final stage – a butterfly with its magnificent iridescent blue wings shining in the sunshine.
Not wanting to leave right away, they glanced around. There were trees that stood in clumps, some of their branches hanging low with the weight of ripened fruits, while some branches looked beautiful with strings of blossoms all over them. Plenty of plants and bushes with numerous flowers kept the butterflies happy. A few birds flew outside within the netted enclosure they were in.
“Why are these birds not inside cages?” Diya asked.
“They are harmless to the butterflies here. Blue morphos particularly are eaten up by some birds which I think the zookeeper has kept caged,” Nature-buddy’s voice trailed off.
The warm spring afternoon brought on drowsiness and so they sat down on a patch of green below a banyan tree. Advaita pulled out a flask from his backpack and poured out hot tea into cute steel cups he had carried from home. “No disposable cups. We won’t cut trees to make paper cups, and plastic cups are not bio-degradable.” He said emphatically.
“You know one thing? The blue morphos have inspired some people in the world to come up with interesting inventions” Nature-buddy suddenly broke the silence as she sipped tea.
“How can a butterfly inspire man?” Advaita thought.
“Just as you have teachers, some people continue to seek teachers in Nature even after schooling is over. They take walks in the woods, observing Nature all the while, and get awesome ideas. Looking at the blue morpho and studying it, inquisitive people have come up with fabrics with multiple layers that reflect different colours at different angles.”
“How does that help?” Advaita asked.
“We won’t need a dye manufacturing factory for the fabrics . Also you’re not polluting your environment by adding harmful chemicals from there.”
“This will surely make our EVS ma’am happy. She keeps telling us ‘Little scientists! When you grow up, DO NOT invent anything that harms Nature.’”
As they talked, a blue morpho came and sat a furlong away on a dead log of wood. Its wings shone, clean and bright. “How do you think the blue morpho keeps itself so clean? Watch it. Can you see the ridges on its wing?”
“No, they look so flat,” Diya said.
“The ridges can’t be seen, but they are there. Because of them, water drops falling on the wing shape into balls and so they slide off easily, taking the dirt off the wing with them. This has inspired making of special paints which when applied on walls, leave behind ridges. A splash of water thrown on them carries away all the dirt, leaving the walls sparkling clean.” Nature-buddy was surely surprising them today!
“This act of copying nature is called biomimicry which is a famous word today.” Nature-buddy added.
“When are we getting our study room painted again, brother?” Diya asked.
“I’m sure Daddy dearest will ask you two to save up for that,” Nature-buddy remarked.
“Great! Even adults have teachers who aren’t human beings like them! And…..” Advaita broke off, for Diya was jumping excitedly as a swarm of blue morphos was coming towards them. One of them settled down on a half-eaten fruit on the ground near them. And then they noticed the two big eye-like spots on the brown wings. Nature-buddy spoke up again, “The two eye-like spots are to scare off enemies.”
“Why will they have enemies?” Diya asked.
“Most of the creatures on this earth have enemies, they are called predators. Butterflies are eaten up by birds and insects which are again eaten up by some other creatures and so it continues - a big reason for us not to capture these creations for their beauty. Anything becoming endangered or extinct is bad for us in the long run.”
“Diya, we’ll never hunt butterflies!” Advaita said, as his sister readily nodded.
Nature-buddy looked on happily, thinking “The children have seen a lot, learnt a lot and will go home with an important message – Nature has been there for long, waiting to be admired and studied and mimicked, not to be hurt.” Surely, by the next trip she would introduce them to more biomimicry examples. And if Nature could fascinate them now, who knows they might be successful “biomimicrians” two decades later!