Little things can make a big difference. Always remember to say “thank you” to people – even when you don’t really feel like it. Sometimes a simple smile and “thank you” given to a tired waitress or janitor can really make that person’s day. A few kind words can turn a foe to a friend. The little things we choose to do can have big impacts in ways we may never know. Throughout all of creation in the natural world, there are mountain loads of “little” things that can really mean life or death for a creature. Our universe is a divinely designed system of finely tuned tiny factors, made with the ability to adapt (within limits) according to the needs around them. The life of a monarch butterfly is a beautiful example of this.
The life of a monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, begins when the mother lays her eggs. Monarchs are picky, purposeful parents, who don’t lay their eggs just anywhere, but on milkweed plants. One female monarch can lay 500 eggs, one at a time, and each on their own milkweed leaf. Only about 5% of those eggs will make it to adulthood, meaning that if one female laid 500 eggs, just 25 of those would become adult butterflies that still have some perilous times ahead of them.
Monarchs lay each egg on a milkweed leaf, so that when the egg hatches, the larvae eats its egg shell, then the leaf the egg was on. Milkweed is poisonous to many predators that might be tempted to make a tasty treat of one of these butterflies, so monarchs eat a lot of milkweed early on, which will keep them poisonous, even when they become adults. Their bright orange color warns predators that they are potentially hazardous to eat.
Sometimes the momma monarch will become infected with a parasite that passes on sickness to her eggs. If not treated, this parasite often kills the butterflies that hatch from these eggs or at least leaves them extremely weak. Even though these mommas don’t meet their hatchlings, they still manage to take pretty good care of them by preparing them with the right medicine to fend off this parasite by laying their eggs on more toxic varieties of milkweed. Milkweed plants come in a variety of different species – some are more toxic and others are not very toxic at all.
The milkweed plants that monarchs lay their eggs on fall under the biological genus, Asclepias. The name of this genus comes from the name “Asklepios” – the Greek god (idol) of healing and medicine.
Seeing these momma monarchs medicating their babies in this way surprises evolutionary scientists. It doesn’t benefit the mother to lay her eggs on more or less toxic milkweed – it only benefits her offspring that she will never meet. It doesn’t make sense for the mother to somehow “evolve” this preference for laying eggs on more toxic plants if she has a parasite. No, God created female monarchs with the ability to sense danger and respond to it, not just to protect herself, but also the next generation. The natural world is not totally “dog-eat-dog” or “every man for himself”. On the contrary, there are examples, like the mother monarch, of creatures choosing to help another creature, without any benefits attached.
Are you looking out for those who will come after you? Real, Biblical love is not about feelings, but about selflessly choosing to follow God’s best for the people around you. Use the little decisions in your life to be a light of love, reflecting the ultimate, selfless love of Christ!
Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, November 2015
- “Flight of the Butterflies” movie, as seen by the author in an IMAX theater May 26, 2013. http://www.flightofthebutterflies.com/home/
- “Monarch Butterflies Prescribing Medicine for Offspring” published October 16, 2010 , by Answers in Genesis. Last accessed November 13, 2015 https://answersingenesis.org/creepy-crawlies/insects/monarch-butterflies-prescribing-medicine-for-offspring/
- Emory University. “Monarch butterflies use medicinal plants to treat offspring for disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 October 2010. Last accessed November 13, 2015 www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101011090010.htm
- Monarch Watch: “Milkweed: Introduction” article, last accessed November 13, 2015 http://www.monarchwatch.org/milkweed/