Monday, October 23, 2017

mortal conditions

Walking over to the shop the other day I looked down in the street and there was a green snake near the edge. 

not this snake but one like it

It was motionless so I looked closer and it had been wounded, a bloody spot on its head and another small spot of blood about 3” or so down. I picked it up and held it, lamenting its injury while it quivered in my hand. It was obviously mortally wounded, dying, this beautiful green snake. This was only the third one of this kind I have come across out here. I gently put it in the grass on the side of the road and went on my way. Returning home, I stopped to check on it and it had died.

The next day, walking over to the shop I stopped to check on it's lifeless body and the ants were already at work. They had stripped the head and tail of flesh, exposed some ribs, a section of spine, 

beautiful green scales

and were building a nest around the body.

Ants are pretty amazing. I had killed a big grasshopper in my garden once and it was only a minute or so before an ant discovered it and scurried off. A few minutes later, it was back followed by a constant stream of it's fellows. It took about 15 or 20 minutes for them to completely dismember the carcass and haul it off.

Monarch caterpillars do not always choose the best place to attach themselves to make their chrysalis. They need to pick a spot that is clear of obstruction underneath for about 3 or more inches. When the butterfly emerges it hangs onto the empty chrysalis and drops and expands it's newly acquired wet wings. If there is any obstruction below when the wings expand and dry, the wing will be deformed and a monarch can't fly with deformed wings. I came across one such unlucky monarch fluttering on the ground and picked it up. It made the attempt to fly but the necessary aerodynamics weren't there. It didn't fly so much as engage in a controlled fall. A butterfly who can't fly, can't eat, can't migrate; a mortal condition. I picked it up again and placed it on the ever blooming penta and it ate. I saw it again later and once again picked it up and put it on the penta and have not seen it since.

hard to see the deformity in the pictures, the wingtips are curved down and under and one is torn

you can tell it is newly emerged by its intense colors


  1. Oh, Ellen! This is such a beautiful post in some way. The very mortality of everything born to life. The cycle of it, from birth, to death, to returning to the earth.
    How do you think that pretty snake was injured?

    1. It's a mystery. my guess is it was run over by a bicycle but I only say that because the injured section of its body was about as wide as a fat bicycle tire. I think if it had been a cat or other animal, the woulds would have been much greater.

  2. Life is a struggle for everything, isn't it? Sad about the butterfly but it's very pretty in the pictures. And sad about the snake, too! I was thinking a cat got it, but your bicycle theory definitely sounds plausible.

  3. I suppose it's good for us that we can make a hierarchy of things, and still feel sorrow down the line for suffering and death. Well, most of us. I realized I cannot make that an inclusive statement.

  4. Our Monarchs are gone and I saw so many that I have hope. Lots of Painted Ladies on the remaining zinnias.

  5. Great nature shots. There's no such thing as "fairness" in nature.

  6. hopefully the butterfly can recover. I have seen a few with smaller wings flying. I think those green snakes are more of a tree snake, so out of its realm.

  7. I am envious. This summer, we could count the number of butterflies in two hands, which was an improvement to last summer where we had zilch.

  8. I was wondering today if you've been seeing monarchs. They have been just thick here. I watch them while I'm at work, and after last week I started counting. Yesterday, I counted at least sixty five of them -- all going south, except for one, which was headed due north. There's always one!


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