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Description: The Rose Butterfly has a body, head, and legs like a normal butterfly, but has five to seven pairs of wings on each side. It is richly colored in hues of red, pink, and orange, with deep, iridescent black markings. There are very sharp spines all along the outer edges of each wing. The butterfly has a very limited ability to fly, because the extra wings get in the way. However, they do make it essentially impossible for a predator to reach the body or head of the butterfly without first running afoul of the wings.
Torn World scientists are divided as to whether this creature evolved from a monarch butterfly or a swallowtail butterfly, though the majority opinion is that they must have evolved from monarch butterflies due to their diet, and that the mutation that caused the multiplicity of wings also caused the lower wing to elongate. The caterpillar eats milkweed, and is substantially longer than a standard monarch caterpillar.
This creature evolved in an odd-shaped torn region — very long and winding. Based on the twisted shapes of the trees the first explorers found, this region was constantly subject to very high winds, which scientists theorize could have thrown normal butterflies into areas of time instability, killing them or causing mutations in their offspring. Perhaps this is why the adult butterfly has such a heavy and cumbersome form, and can hardly fly at all except in high winds.
As a defense against the small mammals that dominated that patch of the world during the upheaval, the butterfly developed sharp, fragile spines along the edges of its wings, and glands that produce a chemical substance that causes stinging and swelling when it pierces the skin.
Similar to normal butterflies, the Rose Butterfly’s wings are fragile, and it can lose parts of any of its wings without appearing to suffer. Indeed, if one of the butterflies loses half or more of its wings on both sides, it becomes better able to fly.
The butterfly is typically shades of red and orange inside the black markings, though some varieties are paler, ranging into either pink or yellow. In addition, breeders have been attempting to breed Rose Butterflies into yellow, near-white, purple, and black strains.
Habitat: Outside of the area where they evolved, the butterflies spread very slowly on their own, however, they can breed anywhere there is milkweed, and the family of their original discoverer eventually achieved fame and wealth breeding and exporting them.
Breeding Habits and Family Units: Rose Butterflies lay eggs that are indistinguishable, to the eye, from monarch butterfly eggs, though the Rose Butterflies lay five to ten times the number of eggs a monarch does. These hatch into caterpillars, which, other than being longer than monarch butterfly caterpillars, have similar looks and life cycle. The caterpillars are voracious, and get rather plump immediately before forming the chrysalis. The Rose Butterfly chrysalis is bulky, almost spherical.
Some of the animals of that area developed partial immunity to the alkaloids derived from the milkweed, so the caterpillars are subject to predation, though they are obviously not a preferred food. However, the added protection of the spines means that an animal will rarely attempt to eat a mature butterfly more than once.
Consequently, caterpillars seem to have a tropism for any adult butterfly of their species, which appears to get stronger as they get closer to the age of forming a chrysalis. You frequently find a new chrysalis hanging from the milkweed stem near leaves that have eggs on them, and similarly, a newly-emerging butterfly in the vicinity of hatching eggs.
Interaction with Humans: The Rose Butterflies were initially sold as part of the exotic flower trade, and so have spread widely in inhabited areas, so long as one or another variety of milkweed is available.
The Rose Butterfly concentrates the akaloids from the milkweed away from its exoskeleton, in its spines, causing a higher concentration in the spines than that found in monarchs. In addition, the Rose Butterfly has glands that excrete chemicals that cause swelling and a stinging, itching sensation; these chemicals cover the wings and body of the butterfly, and can be sprayed into the air if the butterfly is alarmed. It is not recommended that someone lean in to sniff the butterfly, as in sniffing a rose, as the chemicals are quite painful if gotten in the eyes, and a sufficient amount can cause scarring.
However, the adult butterfly has a limited ability to create more of these chemicals, so it is unlikely to use its spray unless it feels threatened.
The alkaloids in the spines of the wings affect heart function. They can be used, in moderation, as medicine to treat heart flutters and palpitations, however, the toxicity is a serious problem. Too much can depress heart function and can even cause death. However, the beneficial uses are sufficient to make this butterfly a staple in every apothecary’s garden and on farms that specialize in providing herbs to apothecaries.
Side effects of using the medications from the butterfly’s spines can include blurred vision, fainting, slowed heartbeat, headache, lethargy, loss of appetite, low blood pressure, rash, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, weakness, and drowsiness. Overdose or chronic use can cause confusion, depression, disorientation, hallucinations, seeing pale halos around objects, stomach pain, severe vomiting and diarrhea, fainting, and more severe forms of the other side effects. Some of the more popular formulations prepared by the apothecaries include herbs intended to ameliorate one or more of these toxic side-effects.
The caustic chemical in the butterfly’s glands has some anti-fungal properties, however, for the most part, this treatment is avoided except as a last resort, since the chemical is so hard on the skin.
Lore: The Birai family were skilled marketers, and made many claims about the Rose Butterfly as they traveled from place to place, cannily not straying far from the truth about the creatures and the properties of the chemicals found on their wings. However, subsequent breeders were often not so careful, and claims of the efficacy of the butterfly sting have included curing impotence, migraines, arthritis, swamp fever, heart palpitations, gangrene, and many other ailments.
The apothecaries’ guild periodically attempts to provide education regarding the things that the butterfly’s spines cannot effectively treat, however, since the medicines that they prepare for those ailments are invariably costly, their efforts are usually met with skepticism.
Luck: In addition to medical claims, there are claims that a Rose Butterfly brings blessings into a house; the type of blessing varying with the dominant color of the butterfly. Red is associated with love, orange is associated variously with luck and wealth. Pink is most often associated with respect, health, and fertility. In some cities, primarily to the west, very dark intense colors are seen as more lucky, while in most eastern cities, it is the paler varieties that are assumed to be stronger. There is no particular cultural association that correlates well with these varying beliefs, so it is assumed that they arose from marketing claims, which may have been based solely on what variety a salesman had on hand and the needs of potential customers at that time.
Religion: There is a cult in the extreme south that believes the Rose Butterflies can carry healing prayers to the Gods. The butterflies to be used for this purpose are placed in a time field, and tools are used to remove all but the two most perfect sets of wings on each side. The removed wings are crushed and added to makeup, which is used to mark the face and arms of the priest who is praying and the person being prayed over. At the height of the ritual, the butterfly or butterflies (depending on the wealth of the sick person’s family) are released and the priest makes note of their flight, attempting to divine what else can be done to make the sick person well. Witnesses say the butterflies’ flights are often jerky and erratic, especially at first. An acolyte with a full face mask is sometimes employed to keep the butterflies in the air.
Milkweed Varieties: It should be noted that there are a number of varieties of milkweed. The milkweed in the corridor where these butterflies evolved is a very strong source of alkaloids; other southern milkweeds range from strong to moderate, and northern milkweeds range from moderate to weak. In addition to this general guideline, different species of milkweed have variations on the specific chemicals they produce. As a consequence, regional differences in lore as to the exact properties of medicines made from a rose butterfly’s spines and glands may actually be based in observation of the local conditions, rather than superstition.
History: The Birai family proudly displays the first record of the Rose Butterfly in a time-field in their business headquarters. It is a letter from the discoverer of the Rose Butterfly, on creamy parchment. Although the letter mentions more than one picture, only a single picture is on display for the public, one showing a butterfly and a single, large caterpillar sharing a leaf.
I know I don’t write often, but there’s a lot of work to do in this newly open strip, surveying the plants and animals. Some things look alike, but aren’t (there’s a variety of mulberries here that works very nicely as an emetic, for instance).
So, I was going through a meadow, cataloging the different plants. Most of the plants are similar to those on Grandmother’s land, but we have to check each for lingering effects of the upheaval. I walked around some raspberry bushes and saw a clump of milkweed with several beautiful, red, orange and black roses mixed in. Or at least I thought they were roses.
I got up close and reached my hand out to touch, and I ended up with a dozen shallow scratches on my fingers! And the cuts stung! The petals of the rose were stiff and had jagged edges. Up close, I could see no stems or rose leaves, so I cautiously bent in to get a better look. The rose moved along the milkweed leaf, and I realized the little line of white dots behind it was a line of eggs.
Mom, it was some kind of multi-winged, swallow-tailed butterfly! I tried to startle them into flying, but all they did was crawl along, happily laying their eggs. My supervisor managed to capture one in one of our specimen jars, by the simple expedient of putting the jar over a whole milkweed stalk, bending it sideways, and then cutting the milkweed stem.
As an experiment, he went up to another, wearing heavy leather gloves, and reached for it; it swatted him with its wings. He did manage to pick it up, but the poor thing lost a bunch of bits from its wings, and doesn’t look as pretty now. However, it doesn’t seem at all distressed.
As for my fingers, we washed them carefully and bandaged them, and the cuts are stinging less now, and the swelling subsided as soon as we washed the cuts. But I can certainly imagine that no critter that tried to take a bite out of one of these bugs would try it again. I wouldn't want to imagine how those cuts would feel on my tongue! I’m also feeling rather tired; but then, it’s been a very long week.
So how are things going back home? Are you still wrangling with the licensing bureau about the exotics you’ve been growing in your greenhouses? I know you’d love to see these butterflies, they’re gorgeous, but it’s probably best if we don’t stir things up when you might have an inspector drop by. You’ll have to content yourself with the pictures I am enclosing.
Your loving daughter,
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