Saturday, January 15, 2022

hiding in plain sight

I always mistake them for something else.

My cup-of-gold vines are fecund growers. And like any plant that quickly grows and flowers, they produce an endless shower of dried flowers and leaves.

Each morning I pick up the nightly detritus. That is when I make my mistake.

Butterflies find the vines the perfect place to rest or hide from predators -- or both. When I press through the vines looking for dried leaves, like Stanley in search of Livingston, it is an early wakeup call for the butterflies that are not yet about their daily business. With one exception.

This haa now happened several times, as it did this morning. I reached for a sere leaf, and it magically comes to life in my fingers. 

The dried-leaf butterflies are as appropriately named as Tony Blair. They look like dried leaves. Even though they come in several forms, they all retain that same camouflage quality. 

By now, I should recognize them before I disturb their slumber. You might very well think that. But, recall I am the guy who was stung by a scorpion because he thought it was a stinging caterpillar -- and still touched it (a hair of the dog).

I will wager you have already guessed where I am taking you next. Back to high school biology where we learned about the color change of peppered moths in the English midlands. 

Up until the industrial revolution, the peppered moth was gray and slept during the day on gray tree trunks. Then came the revolution and sooted the trees black. Within a couple of decades, black peppered moths appeared in the dirty cities. The gray moths proliferated in the countryside. When pollution was cut back in the 1960s and the tree trunks reverted to their natural gray, the gray moths returned.

This was long used as evidence of evolutionary natural selection. Birds ate the gray moths when the trees were sooty and the black ones when they were clean.

That set off a scientific debate as to whether there was a causal relation between the pollution and the color change. Recent studies indicate there may have been. The black wing mutation did not appear until 1810 -- just as the revolution was churning up the smoke. Or it may have all been an odd coincidence.

Whatever the truth is, circumstances had an environmental impact on which moths survived and where. As we undergo cyclical climate change, we will undoubtedly be witness to other adaptations. Snowy plovers will find new places to live. Giant sequoias may not be so lucky.

I doubt I will live that long -- to see how the brave new world evolves. Instead, I will have to content myself with the wonders of creation that show up in my garden.

Just as they are.

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