Flight of the Butterfly

To the casual observer the flight of a butterfly appears haphazard and inefficient, something like the bobbing of a cork on turbulent waters.

August 3, 2018 | | Notes from the Wild

John Clark was a kick-off return specialist for the Queen’s University football team in the 1970s. He was also one of my best friends.

John and I shared a similar body type. Both of us were rather small for football at about 5’ 10” and 165lbs. Both of us were good receivers. But that’s where the similarities ended. John had university level talent and I didn’t. One reason for his success was his running style. He moved like a butterfly in flight.

To the casual observer the flight of a butterfly appears haphazard and inefficient, something like the bobbing of a cork on turbulent waters. Butterflies seem unable to go from one point to another in a straight line. Instead they appear directionally challenged, as if they’ve been tippling on fermented nectar.

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  • Like a butterfly, my friend seldom moved in a straight line when running with a football. He’d zig left, zag right, take two steps in one direction and then abruptly change course to run in the opposite direction. He’d even back peddle if he had no other option. This erratic movement worked. He was very difficult to take down.

    In common with butterflies, my friend’s success depended on unpredictable movement – a strategy honed by butterflies over evolutionary time to avoid capture by birds, and by my friend during five years of high school football, to avoid being tackled by opposing players.

    Deleware skipper giant swallowtail shortly after emergence from chrysalis great spangled fritillary red admiral red spotted purple silvery blues mating tigerswallowtail
    Giant swallowtail shortly after emergence from chrysalis. Photo by Don Scallen.

    I doubt if John consciously realized he moved like a butterfly. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that he arrived at a similar solution to the shared problem of avoiding pursuers. And me? Pity I didn’t learn from the flight of butterflies. I may have scored more touchdowns.

    About the Author More by Don Scallen

    Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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