A few days before the end of last year I discovered this unlikely winter visitor perched on a windowsill in our house: it’s a butterfly, a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae). Like most whites, these butterflies overwinter as pupae (the resting stage the caterpillar enters before it becomes a butterfly). This individual was likely attached to a piece of firewood in our wood shed, and when we brought the wood into our house for several days, the warm temperatures triggered its development and it emerged as an adult butterfly.
Cabbage Whites, although they’re one of the most familiar butterflies in North America, are native to Europe. They have been present here since the nineteenth century. Many gardeners view the caterpillars as pests, because they feed on plants in the mustard, or cabbage, family (Brassicaceae), and female Cabbage Whites can lay hundreds of eggs each.
This individual, however, won’t have any opportunities to propagate its species. As I write this, it is still resting on the windowsill, appearing to gaze forlornly out at the snow-covered world on the other side of the window. Although we have many house plants, our house contains no nectar-filled flowers. Winter days here are dark and dull; butterflies are creatures of sunlight, and on a day this dark in summer, most butterflies would probably be tucked away under a leaf, waiting for the sun to emerge. When the sun came out briefly the other afternoon, the butterfly fluttered for a few moments at the window, and later sat basking in the warm light, wings partially open. I feel sorry for it, but if it had not emerged from its pupa in the house, it would have simply been burned along with its piece of wood in the fireplace. As it is, it is a reminder of the spring days that are sure to come, however far away they may seem in the depths of winter.
I hope that the coming year will contain many more butterflies, and many more encounters with interesting beings (whether animal, plant, human, or other).