Living

A murderous autumn impossible to change

Often mistaken for a monarch, the Gulf fritillary visited The Other Shop a couple of weeks ago when the monarchs were migrating through the Coast. Unlike the monarchs, this fritillary can be a year-round Coast resident.
Often mistaken for a monarch, the Gulf fritillary visited The Other Shop a couple of weeks ago when the monarchs were migrating through the Coast. Unlike the monarchs, this fritillary can be a year-round Coast resident. Special to the Sun Herald

Am I alone in feeling the guilt of being a butterfly murderer?

Participation in this annual autumn massacre is impossible to avoid, try as I may.

Except for the above mentioned murders, fall on the Mississippi Coast is divine.

The waters of the Sound and bays show off a diamond glint as if newly engaged. The temperatures — and dare I say humidity — are kinder to sweaty Southern sensibilities. The pop-eye mullet jump for joy. Sunsets turn Monet’s palette green with envy. Oysters fatten. Pets and wildlife frisky-up.

And, oh, the butterflies! The lack of leaf color enjoyed by our more northern brethren is more than made up by the yellow and gold wings of the monarchs and yellow sulfurs. In response to Mother Nature’s clockwork, these butterflies join dragonflies and hummingbirds in a seasonal migration, and the Coast is lucky to be in their assorted flight paths from September through early November.

The butterflies, however, aren’t always so lucky. The natural tendency of the monarchs and sulfurs is to find byways to make their flights easier. These byways are too often our highways, and therein lies the murder. Surely you have experienced this phenomenon. Splat on windshields. Splat on bumpers.

The worst, I think, is driving across the brides, especially east-west ones like the bays of St. Louis and Biloxi and the Pascagoula River. On regular highways, the butterflies have roadsides and medians for side-tracking, but on the bridges they tend to avoid the water and remain in the direct path of cars.

That’s how I become an unwilling murderer.

I was sadly reminded of this in early October as I drove the Coast, absorbing our autumnal beauty. I realized I could not avoid hitting butterflies without causing accidents, and an “I Avoid Butterflies!” bumper sticker would be useless.

There are just too many butterflies, a strange thing for a nature lover such as I to say.

If every fly-through community for these migrators has the same highway murder rates, it’s no wonder butterfly populations are declining. In addition to pesticides, deadly storms and habitat loss to development we can add vehicular manslaughter, although I don’t think you’ll find that cause in a scientific publication.

Death by engine is nothing new. Before cars existed, there were trains. Years ago I found a late 1800s article in this newspaper about a proliferation of yellow sulfur butterflies using the Coast railroad tracks as their roadway to Florida and warmer winter climates.

The only solution would be to ban driving during this autumn migration season, but that is not an option. Our sanity would be questioned.

Still, I can’t help but feel sorry for the little orange and yellow fellers who are just doing what Mother Nature tells them to do. To them I give a slightly altered version of that famous Irish expression: May the road not rise to meet you.

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.

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