Family bedazzled by mail-order butterflies

Sunday, May 5, 2002

Butterflies aren't free.

They're growing right here in Bill's Butterfly Nursery, a plastic container that comes in the mail complete with smeary food fit for five larvae. The larvae have now turned into caterpillars and are all wrapped up in their efforts to transform themselves into beautiful Painted Lady butterflies.

Bill's Butterfly Nursery has a place of honor on our dining room table, right next to a vase of cut flowers. There's a whole nature theme going on here.

Joni ordered the butterflies right off the Internet. She did so because our youngest daughter, Bailey, wanted to grow butterflies as a hobby until she gets older and wants a puppy. Actually, she and her sister, Becca, would love to have a canine companion right now.

As for butterflies, I'm not sure that they count as real pets. It's not like you can really pet them. They won't lick your hand, fetch your paper or even purr at you.

Becca, wants to keep the creatures once they turn into butterflies. Of course to do so, we'd have to buy Bill's Butterfly Net Castle from Bill's Butterfly store in Pennsylvania.

Bailey and Joni want to kiss the butterflies and let them loose. I'm in the middle on this one.

I like butterflies. They're clearly the beauty queens of the insect world. There are about 20,000 species of butterflies in the world. There's even a butterfly house in St. Louis where visitors can see them cavorting among the plants and trees in all their glory.

Of course, I'm not proposing to turn our house into a home for butterflies. We have enough trouble keeping track of the humans in our abode much less anything that can fly.

Admittedly, our children are thrilled that we have any creature at all, even a lowly larvae that hopes to get its beauty rest.

Joni and I had two cats, but that was before we became parents and I concluded that my allergies were better without having a few fur balls around.

Joni grew up in the St. Louis area in a zoo of a home that would have made Dr. Doolittle feel right at home. Her family had all sorts of creatures, including a pet rooster.

When I was growing up in the St. Louis suburbs, we had few pets. Mostly, we had fish and the occasional stray turtle. We never kept the turtles long.

I liked the fish. We had guppies, bottom-crawling catfish and other small sea creatures. They never got under foot and they didn't bark at night or any other time.

Aside from feeding them, you had to keep the water heated to a constant temperature -- if it got too hot you had a sudden fish fry -- and battle the algae.

But otherwise, the fish were no fuss. If one died, you threw it away. It's not like dogs. The fish were nice, but we never felt we should put them in the family will.

I'm not a passionate pet person. I don't like the responsibility of watching out for an animal. Keeping track of two children is enough for me.

Still, I understand man's need for a cuddly cat or a lovely Labrador.

A few years ago, we briefly owned a black and white puppy. Rosie turned out to be a good dog. We gave it to my sister and her family, who did all the raising. We just watched and visited from time to time.

Becca and Bailey love Rosie. We all think of Rosie as part of our family even though she no longer lives in our home.

The butterflies won't ever reach Rosie status with our family, but they're certain to bring a little beauty into our home. At least with butterflies, there's no need to take them to the vet for shots.

They grow up fast and could be free at last.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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