Bright orange and silver fluttered on the damp grey concrete sidewalk: butterfly wing! Two wings, actually. Folded closed. The insect was on its side and in apparent distress, its legs twitching ever so slightly. I bent down and gently scooped it up, aware my touch might make the situation worse.
It was a Gulf Fritillary – a fast-flying lepidopteran athlete that prefers soaring treetops to sidewalk gardens. Fritillary live dangerously, but they have a great escape method because they are unpalatable to birds and other predators, even toxic. This one looked as though it had been through a battle. The edges of one forewing were tattered, and I was unable to make out if all its legs were intact. But the little creature’s body looked fine, plump, and the antennae were straight with red-orange pinhead –sized nodes at the tip. The antennae stood out straight with an air of alertness, and the eyes, also red-orange with a tiny black spot suggesting a pupil - glowed with steady, determined life within.
I studied this little marvel of nature and sympathy welled up inside my heart. Its mandibles began to move and I could see the coiled proboscis – its tongue - begin to unfurl. Maybe a little drink of water would help rouse my rescue butterfly. I carried it in my open palm, my other hand shielding it from sun and the breeze. As I rounded the corner towards our building, I spotted one of my neighbors walking his dog. We exchanged morning greetings and he was quick to notice something cupped in my hands. He glanced quizzically and I showed him the butterfly. “It’s injured. Looks like it wants liquid. I’ll bring it upstairs and give it a drink, and if it starts to fly around my apartment I’ll have another problem,” I half-joked. We both watched the little creature who was now trying to steady itself upright in my hand. It gave a preliminary flap to test its wings and then, ever so lightly I felt its tiny feet push off, and the Fritillary took flight, wings beating as it faded into the sky.