Bringing home the roadkill

The butterfly known as the Common Crow. Photo Mary Gardner

The butterfly known as the Common Crow. Photo Mary Gardner

Mary Gardner

I brought home the roadkill. The raggedy dead butterfly is called a Common Crow, perhaps a female. But imagine: alive she might have migrated along the coast from Moreton Bay fig trees to frangipanis and oleanders and over to river mangroves. Maybe a male hunted her out, wafting perfume over her till she was persuaded. Did she ever lay eggs on some milkweed, a jasmine or maybe even a hoya?

If she lived a full life, she would have spent three months flitting about. These were windy times and she would have known quite a few headwinds.

Her eggs may have already hatched. The caterpillars may already have eaten their fill of toxic plants – that’s why Common Crows are poisonous at every stage of their lives. Somewhere around town are hanging many small silver chrysalises.

Unless, of course, someone sprayed pesticides. Cars aren’t the only hazard for insects. ‘Everyone’ knows about the spray hazard but seem happy enough to buy the poisons at a supermarket along with milk and bread.  When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring fifty two years ago, ‘everyone’ was horrified with her opening image: a season with no songbirds, all dead from eating poisoned insects. A few years ago, ‘everyone’ was also aghast with similar images of a season when agricultural crops failed because the bees which pollinate them were poisoned and dead. The years go on and on, taking this issue on and on.


But there’s this raggedy old butterfly on my desk. I like old animals, of any kind. They are defiant messengers that began in the past and front up now to say life goes on and on as well.

I fear that ‘everyone’ is getting used to living without animals. Without their magnificent proud ways as startling creatures and all their wildly interrelated schemes.  Consider these butterflies and bees, moths and wasps and beetles and birds.

Every one is connected by means of flowering plants, in a great global enterprise as pollinators. How breathtaking is that?

In these warm summer days at the start of the year, chambers of commerce, local governments and residents’ groups are reviving themselves. They are casting about for something to do.


So I will suggest that Byron employ butterflies, bees, moths and all the rest in an enterprise that builds a regional resource and will delight residents and tourists alike. Let’s create a pollinators’ park with a butterfly house and living displays of bees and other insects along with all those flowering plants.

A site like the IQ Quarry might work. This community land can do with plantings and grounds maintenance. Picnics would be encouraged. The butterfly house and insect displays would be part of an insect bank for the region’s farming and horticulture. A nursery of host plants would complement the animal resource.

Think of it like the next step after seedsaving, the popular movement preserving our heritage of food plants. There’s employment to be had and sales to be made, all the while enchanting visitors and supplying rural folk.

There is a lot to learn, too. Some first lessons might be from the butterfly houses in Coffs Harbour and Kakadu. France has a fantastic Micropolis, ‘a city of insects’. This complex is a popular visitor and research centre. Its patron is Jean-Henri Fabre, the entomologist whose descriptions of the intimate life of insects won him the 1910 Nobel prize in literature. He wrote ‘what matters in learning is not to be taught, but to wake up’.

Fabre lived from 1823 to 1915. He knew about pollution and economic changes. Across the raggedy years, his advice is to ‘turn… to wasps and bees, who unquestionably come first in the laying up of a heritage for their offspring’. We seem doomed to pass on to the next generation so many sorry death-dealing  issues. Let’s also pass on a way to stay connected with those wildly interrelated schemes of life.

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