Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Hiding its light

Google did one of their imaginative twists on the search engine's name yesterday, with autumn leaves wrapped round the six letters. It was officially the first day of the season, although in fact, at last, we have an Indian summer, clear and sunny, albeit cold at night for moths. Still, the leaves are turning and now is the time when you will start discovering oddly old-leaf-looking creatures like the one in my first photograph, usually tucked behind curtains or somewhere that the duster seldom finds. This is a hibernating Peacock butterfly. The decent thing to do is to leave it to sleep. But if you want to entertain children, or teach them a parable about dullness sometimes concealing great beauty or worth, you can tickle the insect awake and goad it into opening its wings. Pow! What a contrast. See below.
Peacocks and Small Tortoisehells, which are equally superb above but boring underneath, are the two butterflies associated with the theatre superstition - that if a butterfly appears on stage before the opening night, all will go well. It is a comforter, rather than a superstition, because in an enormous, curtain-filled arena such as a theatre, there will almost always be a hibernating butterfly. Still, I remember reporting on just such an event at the Theatre Royal in Bath just before Sir Ian McKellen launched a brilliantly successful season there. So perhaps there's something in it.

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