There's something absolutely magic about butterflies. Perhaps it's their gossamer wings. Or maybe it's their brilliant colors and the way that they seem to float through the air.
Butterflies are almost otherworldly, so it's no surprise some people see them as signs from those who have passed away. They people believe that when you see a butterfly, it's a loved one's way of reminding you that they love you. Romy McCloskey is one such believer in the special meaning of butterflies.
McCloskey's mother died from cancer several years ago. Before she did, however, she told McCloskey that she would send butterflies to check on her and make sure she was doing okay.
But McCloskey isn't content to sit back and wait for a chance encounter with a butterfly. When she comes across caterpillars in her garden, she brings them indoors. There, the caterpillars can go through metamorphosis and emerge as butterflies without the dangers they'd face if left outdoors.
McCloskey's care ensures more butterflies enter this world. She protects the caterpillars from predators and gives them the time they need to emerge as butterflies. Once their wings have dried, she releases them.
Her strategy has been highly effective. McCloskey has raised and released dozens of butterflies so far. In doing so, she's honoring her mother's memory.
Recently, though, one butterfly emerged from its cocoon in need of help. Its upper and wings on one side of its body were torn. The damage to the wings was so severe that, although the butterfly was otherwise healthy, it wouldn't be able to fly or survive.
Unable to bring herself to kill the butterfly, McCloskey decided to keep it indoors and to care for it until it died. But she soon began to wonder if she could save the butterfly instead. When a friend sent her a guide to repairing butterfly wings, McCloskey jumped into action.
She gathered supplies, including a towel, wire hanger, contact cement, toothpick, cotton swabs, scissors, tweezers and talcum powder. Another butterfly had died, and McCloskey realized she could transplant a wing from the dead butterfly to the living one – or at least she could attempt it.
The surgery would be a delicate one, and McCloskey didn't have access to the specialized tools human surgeons or veterinarians use. But that didn't stop her. She used a loop in the wire hanger to keep the butterfly secure. Then, she carefully cut away the damaged part of the butterfly's wings.
It might seem that trimming away a wing would be painful for the butterfly, but it's not. Cutting off the damaged portions of a wing is similar to humans getting a haircut. Plus, it was necessary to prepare for what McCloskey had to do next.
McCloskey carefully glued pieces of the transplanted wing onto the butterfly. She used contact cement to adhere the wing pieces to the butterfly. Then, she dusted the wing with talcum powder to absorb any leftover stickiness.
The butterfly looked almost perfect after McCloskey's work. She gave it a day to rest, then prepared to release it. McCloskey was nervous to see how the repaired wing would fare, but when the butterfly took flight, her nerves turned to relief.
After taking a lap around the yard, the butterfly came to rest on a nearby branch. McCloskey's heart sank, and she thought she would have to take the butterfly back indoors. But then it flew off again, and this time it kept going.
Thanks to McCloskey's care, more butterflies are out in the world. Perhaps one of the butterflies she releases will bring a special message to someone else, just as McCloskey's mom hoped butterflies would do for her daughter.