poetry and prose about place

butterfly spaces

with 7 comments

Can you tell the difference between a Viceroy butterfly and a Monarch butterfly?
I am a biologist and very interested in plant taxonomy.  You would think I would have some interest in identifying insects.  However, I have allowed the insect world to occupy a bucket of incomprehensible goo in my mind.
However, I have emerged from ambivalence.  Last week, my husband and I visited a little-used railway siding as part of my plan to begin a series of poems on abandonment and repurposing.  The first view we encountered was of a lovely orange butterfly perched on the metal rail of the track.

Viceroy butterfly on the rail of a little-used track

I took a photo and looked at the butterfly for a while, as it sat flexing its wings.  I was thinking ‘Monarch’ , not really knowing the name of this colorful creature. 
Once at home, I dug out my Peterson’s Field Guide: ‘A Field Guide to the Insects’ and took a look at the Monarch in Plate 9.  Below it was a very similar-looking butterfly called a Viceroy.
“Hopeless”, I thought.  But then I had a look at the text, and understood for the first time about the regularity of wing venation in butterflies.  Monarchs and Viceroys are both orange, but the vein patterns on their wings are quite different!  The entomologists among you will be laughing or closing the page in unbelieving disgust.
Monarchs belong to the Family of Milkweed Butterflies, and Viceroys to the family of Brush-footed Butterflies.  The Viceroys are smaller than the Monarchs, and the tips of the forward wings show distinct differences, discernable even to an amateur like me.
Although I did not get the color right, drawing the Viceroy has made me pay additional attention to the complexity of the wing venation.
‘Viceroy butterfly on a rail’




scrap of paper

plucked from my hand

wind a tease

always one wing beat

beyond the finger tip

attempts to read

delicate code

of dots

and dashes


a yellow Post-it note

folded on the tower

of a blue sky flaxflower

a tatter

a musical note

set to the panic

of butterfly flight


a curtsy and away

across the field


pursued by a butterfly net


and a killing jar



© Jane Tims  2007

Written by jane tims

October 1, 2011 at 9:11 am

7 Responses

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  1. Well, for those of us who aren’t entomologists, this was a very interesting piece. Like Barbara says, Viceroys I’ve seen, thinking they were Monarchs as well. As always, enjoyed your poem Jane…AND the drawing is great.



    October 10, 2011 at 9:34 am

    • Hi. I now have four butterflies on my ‘life list’. I’m not progressing very quickly, but perhaps I’ll get another one learned by the time the snow comes! Jane


      jane tims

      October 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm

  2. Wonderful drawing and poem – it’s a blessing to be artistic and to have such a way with words – a world of possibilities! Now I’m wondering how many Viceroys I’ve seen, thinking they were Monarchs. Will look closer next time… Thanks!


    Barbara Rodgers

    October 3, 2011 at 9:30 am

    • Hi Barbara. Thanks! I chased butterflies all over the place this week and have new appreciation for those able to identify them on the move! Jane


      jane tims

      October 3, 2011 at 8:49 pm

  3. Hi HIdecent checking your site and just simply thought I would say appreciate it and wished I could write like that.


    beat making software

    October 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm

  4. What a great beginning for your new series of poems.


    Ellen Grace Olinger

    October 1, 2011 at 10:42 am

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