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Dora Levy Mossanen Headshot

The Wonder of Exotic Creatures

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For many years now, I continue to look forward every month to my copy of the "National Geographic," turning the pages with the eagerness of an explorer about to set foot onto a virgin continent. What might I discover in this issue, in the detailed articles, gorgeous photographs, and in-depth reporting that will lead me on yet another journey to an exotic locale, and to yet another unimaginable wonder of our universe? Above all, I can't wait to be introduced to yet another outlandish creature--horned, scaled, feathered, beaked, bug-eyed, bald, androgynous, nymphomaniac, the list is endless.
These creatures have a way of popping up in every one of my novels.

In fact, I am in the process of writing a novel in which butterflies play an important role. So, I thought I'd share some of the intriguing traits of this major order of insects and let you decide whether they display some similarities to us.

Butterflies metamorphose from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to winged adult. In a nutshell, the larva matures, attaches itself to the firm support of a leaf or stem before changing to naked pupa or chrysalis, then to a butterfly whose short life comprises of obsessing over quick sips of nectar so as to get on with the frenzy of mating. Do you detect any resemblance here to the human race?

Did you know that glass wing butterflies lay eggs on the nightshade after which the caterpillars feed on the plant and store the poisonous alkaloids in their tissues? Then, pronto, these poisons are converted to pheromones in males so as to attract hordes of females. Now that's quite ingenious of nature, wouldn't you say, to convert poisons to pheromones in butterflies.

Harmless Stalachtis phaedusa suspend themselves upside down on plants to mimics toxic butterflies and in so doing deter predators. Not very different from us, since we, too, have ways of camouflaging ourselves and, depending on the situation, use words, expressions, gestures, make up, attire, either to attract or fend off.

Caterpillars, unlike most butterflies, are a mean bunch! They have a voracious appetite, and if allowed, they will embark on cannibalism, the larger one feasting on the smaller caterpillars. Are we any different?

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Now, as far as I'm concerned, this one wins the prize. The Oleria quadrata belongs to the clearwing family and is a breed that feeds on aster then passes its alkaloids during mating to the poor and, I assume, unaware female butterfly to render her repugnant to other males. And that's it! Kaput! No more sex for these females. I'm embarrassed to confess that the idea of transferring alkaloids to one's spouse to stop the aforementioned spouse from wandering off into other receptive arms sounded attractive at first. Why didn't nature endow us with this protective trait? Until! Until I came to my senses and realized it wasn't such a brilliant idea, after all, since one's spouse would then forever taste bitter to oneself as well. Who would want that? Lest you come to believe that all butterflies are sexual deviants and masochists to boot, be aware that a certain breed of male butterflies collects nectar, then lovingly blend it into a perfume it hides in its leg pockets to attract females. Isn't this sweet and utterly romantic?

Now that I shared my obsession with you, I hope the lepidopterist among you will find it in your heart to share yours with me.