Though most people take butterflies for granted, Williams elevates the place of this tiny insect in the scientific community.
She describes butterfly “addicts” and includes herself in the group. While most addicts are attracted to the butterflies’ color and beauty, a neural effect she describes in chapter 13, she proves there much more to be learned about this vital insect.
The secret of the butterflies’ feeding mechanism, the proboscis, was a mystery that was not unlocked until recently. The proboscis is not a straw as had been imagined but is rather like a porous sponge. Kornev, a materials engineer and butterfly enthusiast, was the first to discover the real nature of the proboscis.
Williams also gives an overview of the butterflies’ evolution and how scientists discovered their origins. One of the most perfectly preserved butterfly fossils was collected by a woman in Colorado, Charlotte Coplen Hill. Hill accurately preserved specimens from the Eocene era despite having no scientific background.
One of the greatest butterfly researchers, Maria Sibylla Merian, proved that the caterpillar and the butterfly were a single creature in the 17th century. Before this discovery, no one believed caterpillars pupated into butterflies.
Merian, in a trip to South America, was one of the first to describe blue morpho butterflies and one of the first to discover its wing scales. The morpho’s wing scale, it would later be discovered, diffracts light. The only light that is reflected is blue and this gives the Morpho its scintillating blue color.
The Language of Butterflies is a fascinating look at an insect most people think they know extremely well. Journalist Wendy Williams encapsulates the latest scientific research on butterflies in an exciting fashion.