Decoding Their Signs & SymbolsBook - 2010
A pioneering exploration of butterfly markings and how humans respond to them.
People have always marveled at the colors, patterns and designs on the wings of butterflies and moths, but there has been little attempt to decode them or to recognize any great significance in them.
In Butterflies: Decoding Their Signs & Symbols Philip Howse explains how these markings protect butterflies and moths from their principal predators, including birds, lizards and monkeys. These insectivores, he argues, detect their prey by perceiving small details of shape and color rather than the "whole picture" of the insect. These details can create an illusion that camouflages the butterfly or threatens its predator.
If humans look at the detail on a butterfly in the way that a bird sees it, surprising images reveal themselves: owls' eyes, snakes' heads, caterpillars, lizards, wasps, scorpions, birds' beaks, feathers. Howse explores how these signs and symbols, so important in the animal world, became archetypal symbols in our world. Photographs and illustrations chronicle how butterflies and their markings have appeared throughout history, whether on cave walls and in modern art or in our most important mythologies, where they were transformed into the Mother Goddesses by the ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians and the Aztecs.
Butterflies: Decoding Their Signs & Symbols is a fascinating illustrated study of butterflies, but it also poses provocative questions and offers conclusions that will leave readers with a new view of the natural world and how they perceive it. Naturalists and lepidopterists will find it of particular interest.