Have You Seen a Nymph Lately?

Nymph (n):
1. minor goddesses of nature, interchangeable with fairy in some works of fiction
2. butterfly in Family Nymphalidae
3. Jungle Nymph: Heteropteryx dilatata, a phasmid originating from West Malayasia

Above are not the definitions you would find in a typical dictionary.  Rather, they lead us to this week’s focus: fairy features seen in real insects.

Yesterday, I visited the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado to research for a story… Okay! It was a family trip. However, some of the creatures at the place reminded me of the fairies in a short story I’m writing.

Many people these days imagine fairies as tiny women with equivalent-sized butterfly, moth, or dragonfly wings sprouting from their backs. While this image is attractive, it makes little sense if fairies were to live in today’s world near humans. In that case, fairies would need camouflage.

Yesterday’s trip gave me better views of what that camouflage might look like. Despite its name, the Butterfly Pavilion is more than a butterfly exhibit, housing various live invertebrates and vertebrates, including spiders, honey bees, sea stars, and fish. Other than the lepidopterans (butterflies and moths), the animals with the strongest similarities to my fairies were phasmids (stick, leaf, and ghost insects).

Phasmids resemble sticks or leaves, so much so that I stared at a glass cage full of rose branches for several minutes before my husband helped me identify which rose leaves were really leaf insects (Phyllium bioculatum). An interesting fact about Phyllium is that they change colors throughout their life cycle to blend in with changing leaf colors.

Other phasmids at the Pavilion were Vietnamese walkingsticks (Baculum extradentatum), jungle nymphs, Macleay’s spectar (Extatosoma tiaratum), and pink wing stick insects (Sipyloidea sipylus). Unfortunately, I could not convince my new camera to focus on phasmids instead of plants, so you’ll have to browse the Internet or wait for me to find available pictures if you’re curious what these unique creatures look like. [Ed. – See 1/5/09 post.] Anyway, appearance and abilities vary by species, sex, and throughout their developments. For example, some could fly and some reproduce by parthenogenesis (without fertilization).

Perhaps, unnoticed and female-dominant fairy societies aren’t so strange?