“Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood”*

It’s butterfly season here in Maine.

Butterfly wings are made of two chitonous membranes that are nourished and supported by tubular veins. The veins are astonishingly strong, as I think you can see in this close-up of an Eastern Swallowtail wing .


When a butterfly first emerges, its wings are all scrunched up. As they unfold, we talk of a butterfly “drying” its wings, but in fact the veins are being pumped full of blood to form a skeleton over which the membranes can stretch, very much like the unfurling of an umbrella canopy as the spokes extend. This is a Monarch, soon after emerging from its chrysalis:


And here it is with veins distended and wings all outstretched:


Butterfly wings are covered by tiny scales, which are what give them colours. Here is the Eastern Swallowtail again, in closeup. The individual scales are visible.


This is a British Common Blue:

Female Common Blue

and this is a très chic French moth, Saturnia pyri, Grand Paon de Nuit (Great Peacock of the Night).


Like many moths, this one has large scales, which make the wings look hairy or shaggy.

Butterflies can normally fold their wings together, but some Lepidoptera, like these two different Plume Moths, can also fold them into narrow bands,

Plume Moth, feeds on wild grapes

or even roll them up tightly:

Plume Moth, feeds on wild grapes

Tiny, delicate creatures, but a marvel of engineering.

*Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1.




2 thoughts on ““Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood”*”

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