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Accidental Lepidopterist

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The caterpillars at the West Linn Library became painted lady butterflies. I’m sitting in my office staring at around sixty chrysalides and one tenacious, late-blooming caterpillar. Over the past couple of weeks, myself and the patrons of West Linn Library have watched as these tiny little bugs tripled in size, ate through mounds of a substance I can only describe as suet and transform themselves overnight into these little brown pods flecked with gold.

Then they relaxed (if you call a complete body transformation "relaxing") for a few more days until they were ready to wrest themselves out of their chrysalides (cocoons are for moths!) and emerge as beautiful painted lady butterflies. Once they are all ready, we will have a nice releasing ceremony on the back patio of the library. By the time this article is published, the butterflies will be outside doing their thing!

As fun as it has been to see so many families staring into my office window to watch the progress of these intrepid insects, and it has been a lot of fun, I think I may be the one to get the most out of it. From my revulsion at even holding the cup the caterpillars came in, to my gradual, almost maternal affection for them, I have been able to witness nature in motion. To prepare for the project, I utilized the library’s many resources to find out all I could about painted lady butterflies and their life cycle. I ended up learning more about butterflies than I ever thought I’d need to know.

To borrow from comedian Ben Bailey, I have become an “accidental lepidopterist.” Now with my new-found knowledge of the butterfly world, it’s so exciting to see so many people get on board! I think it will be a little heart-breaking to watch the little guys fly off at our releasing ceremony, but so satisfying to know that our patrons got to watch the butterfly life cycle in action.

That’s what your library is here for. Yes, we have books, LOTS of books (you should check some out, I hear they’re great) and other materials to take home and enrich your life. But we are also here and ready to introduce you to something new.

If you always wanted to know how to make an Excel spreadsheet, we have computer classes for you. If you want to be soothed with beautiful and interesting music, we have our Music in the Stacks concert series. If you want to volunteer your time in a lovely, air-conditioned building surrounded by thousands of stories and snippets of information, we have a thriving volunteer program and we need you! If you have a grade-school aged child that wants to talk about books, we have the Burns St. Kids book club. The library wants you here and we want to help you become an accidental engineer, an accidental Spanish speaker, an accidental book lover or whatever else you can think of! Stop on by and learn something new; or, at least come check out our butterflies!

Rebecca Mayer is the youth services librarian at the West Linn Public Library.



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