Net Free

A whimsical journey on the wings of a butterfly

By Susan Eastman

Alana returned to FAU and earned a master's degree in environmental science. Now 35 years old, she works as the education and training coordinator for the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at the Riverwoods Field Laboratory on the Kissimmee River. She also lives at the site. "When I got interested in butterflies," she says, "my whole outlook changed. Butterflies basically changed the direction of my life."

Alana declares that scientists do need to collect some specimens, but she is firmly in the camp of netless butterflying. "I don't like people who are doing stamp-collector-type butterfly collecting," she says. "Right now, we know so much about our butterfly fauna, due to all of that hard work scientists and collectors have done all these years, that it is time to sit back and enjoy them."

And although she says she doesn't have anything against Butterfly World, she worries that people may think the only way to view the creatures is in captivity. "I will tell you honestly that I have had more exciting experiences sitting in a meadow in Northern California with every flower around me covered with butterflies or in Mexico surrounded by 200 to 300 swallowtails than I've had at Butterfly World," she says. "To me, it is more exciting to be in the wild and have it happen naturally than having butterflies flown in and put in a cage somewhere."

While counting the insects at Highlands Hammock, several Atala Chapter members said they were looking for skippers, a class of moth-like butterflies with minimal visual appeal. Those butterfliers who have been at it a while are no longer dazzled by the showy colors of the insects. "The big, flashy butterflies are easy after you've been doing it for a while," Lana explained. "The real pretty ones are beautiful, but they aren't challenging."

Despite that claim, the height of the count came when Alana spotted a little metalmark amid a ragged bunch of thistle and redroot near the park entrance. The metalmark is a tiny butterfly, not even an inch across, that has mahogany-brown wings decorated with black, lacy scrollwork. It is a dashing creature found only in the southeastern United States. When the sun shines on its wings, the little butterfly rivals the exotic marvels of Butterfly World. Its markings glisten as though its wings have been decorated with lines of tiny silver rivets. Everyone gathered in front of the redroot in a clump, binoculars trained on the deep brown butterfly that alighted on the buff-colored blossoms. For a while, there was nothing but silence, that sister to wonder, as the little metalmark glinted in the sun.

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