The Language of Butterflies by Wendy Williams

How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favourite Insect

Guest Book Review by Ruby Rosenfield

This book is a riveting read in which the reader, if not already a butterfly enthusiast, will surely become entranced by the wonderful world of Lepidoptera.

The author Wendy Williams is an American Science journalist whose budding interest in butterflies has taken her all around the world.

In this book, she writes about the obsessive lives of butterfly enthusiasts through the centuries, paying special tribute to an uneducated 17th-century girl from Frankfurt, Maria Sibylla Merian. Merian fell in love with caterpillars at age 13, following them through their life cycle and recording her research in notebooks detailing the lives of caterpillars, moths, and their favourite plants. She completed her meticulous drawings with watercolour. Her first of many books was published in 1679.

William’s book primarily focuses on the lives and properties of monarch butterflies (sometimes called Wanderers) and how they accomplish the mass migration from Canada and North America to the jungles of Mexico where they overwinter. It also explores the mystery of how they arrive in Australia and occasionally in Britain. There is much to learn in this delightful book. In 1978 the mountaineer Rick Ridgeway was one of four climbers to successfully complete the ascent and safe return of the mountain K2 in Pakistan, a rare accomplishment. At an altitude of over 20 000 feet, a butterfly landed near their rope in a blaze of colour. They wondered if they were hallucinating at that altitude. They took photos and identified the butterfly as a painted lady. Painted ladies live in almost all parts of the world but differ slightly on each continent.

Read on to discover more!

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