H, how beautiful! Oh, my goodness, how beautiful they are!
There are some whose wings are barred with red on a garnet
background; some bright blue with black circles; others are
sulphur-yellow with orange spots; again others are white
Now their uncle told the children the names of the
butterflies that flew on the flowers in the garden. "This
one," said he,
"whose wings are white with a black border and
three black spots, is called the cabbage butterfly. This
larger one, whose yellow wings barred with black terminate
in a long tail, at the base of which are found a large rust
colored eye and blue spots, is called the
And Uncle Paul continued thus, naming the butterflies that a bright sun had drawn to the flowers.
"The Argus ought to be difficult to catch," observed Emile. "He sees everywhere; his wings are covered with eyes."
"The pretty round spots that a great many butterflies have on their wings are not really eyes, although they are called by that name; they are ornaments, nothing more. Real eyes, eyes for seeing, are in the head. The Argus has two, neither more nor fewer than the other butterflies."
"Claire tells me," said Jules, "that butterflies come from caterpillars. Is it true, Uncle?"
"Yes, my child. Every butterfly, before becoming the graceful creature which flies from flower to flower with magnificent wings, is an ugly caterpillar that creeps with effort. Thus the cabbage butterfly which I have just shown you, is first a green caterpillar, which stays on the cabbages and gnaws the leaves. Jacques will tell you how much pains he takes to protect his cabbage patch from the voracious insect; for, you see, caterpillars have a terrible appetite. You will soon learn the reason.
"Most insects behave like caterpillars. On coming out of the egg, they have a provisional form that they must replace later by another. They are, as it were, born twice: first imperfect, dull, voracious, ugly: then perfect, agile, abstemious, and often of an admirable richness and elegance. Under its first form, the insect is a worm called by the general name of larva.
"You remember the lion of the
"Well, this initial state of the insect, this worm, first form of youth, is called the larva. The wonderful change which transforms the larva into a perfect insect is called metamorphosis. Caterpillars are larvæ. By metamorphosis they turn into those beautiful butterflies whose wings, decorated with the richest colors, fill us with admiration. The Argus, now so beautiful with its celestial blue wings, was first a poor hairy caterpillar; the splendid swallowtail began by being a green caterpillar with black stripes across it and red spots on its sides. Out of these despicable vermin metamorphosis has made those delightful creatures which only the flowers can rival in elegance.
Red-humped Apple Tree
(b) caterpillar natural size
"You all know the tale of Cinderella. The sisters have left
for the ball, very proud, very smart. Cinderella, her heart
full, is watching the kettle. The godmother arrives. 'Go,'
says she, 'to the garden and get a pumpkin.' And behold, the
"These powerful godmothers for whom it is play to change mice into horses, lizards into footmen, ugly clothes into sumptuous ones, these gracious fairies who astonish you with their fabulous prodigies, what are they, my dear children, in comparison with reality, the great fairy of the good God, who, out of a dirty worm, object of disgust, knows how to make a creature of ravishing beauty! He touches with his divine wand a miserable hairy caterpillar, an abject worm that slobbers in rotten wood, and the miracle is accomplished: the disgusting larva has turned into a beetle all shining with gold, a butterfly whose azure wings would have outshone Cinderella's fine toilette."