Breathtaking Butterflies: Background information when reading Night of Fire

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Night of Fire

by Colin Thubron

Night of Fire by Colin Thubron X
Night of Fire by Colin Thubron
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2018, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Zoë Fairtlough

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Breathtaking Butterflies

Print Review

Night of Fire frequently references butterflies, often ethereal, almost infinite in variation, and miraculous in their metamorphosis: "...the butterfly's resurrection was different: the winged angel risen from a worm...It showed that anything could become anything." It's as though Thubron wants to remind us time and again that we can change, we don't have to be worms.

The word butterfly literally means a fly that's attracted to butter. A German name, "milchdieb," means milk-thief. In places where ancient farming methods are still practiced, it's not uncommon to find butterflies hovering over buttermilk left to settle.

Here are but five of the many butterfly species that appear in the book:

Glasswing butterfly Glasswings (Greta oto) are ethereal creatures, their wings fully transparent except for the brown borders. The "glass" winged look is because the tissue between the veins lacks colored scales. Although they look fragile, the wings are quite robust, enabling the Glasswing to fly up to twelve miles a day. They're found mostly in central to south America and even as far north as Mexico and Texas.

Zebra Longwing butterfly Heliconius, such as the Zebra Longwing, are found in the southern United States and also central America. The caterpillars ingest the toxins from passion flowers, one of their primary food sources, and can therefore be very poisonous to predators. They are also famous for their cannibalistic caterpillars that eat their siblings.

Rajah Brooke Birdwing butterfly The large Rajah Brooke Birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana) is found in the tropical rainforests of Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra, and is related to its more well known counterpart, the Swallowtail. Its bouncy and rather slow flight pattern, makes it easy to catch. This butterfly is on the CITES list, which prevents the trafficking and sales of protected and endangered species.

Morphos butterfly The Morphos (various genuses) inhabit the forests of the Amazon and Atlantic. Their gorgeous iridescent blue color comes not from pigmentation but the way the tiny scales are arranged so as to refract light much like a prismatic effect. The undersides of their wings are dusky brown so these butterflies avoid predators by folding their wings and using the duller color as camouflage.

Owl butterflyTo avoid predators, the Owl butterfly (Caligo) flies at dusk and bears very conspicuous "eyes" on its underwings as camouflage.

Article by Zoë Fairtlough

This article was originally published in February 2017, and has been updated for the January 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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