When Romy McCloskey found a butterfly with a broken wing, her heart bled for it. The fact that the insect would never fly and would probably perish as a result devastated her. However, she soon came across the most astonishing solution.
McCloskey comes from The Woodlands near Houston in Texas. There, she works at her own costume design business and makes beautifully intricate outfits. And McCloskey’s passion for prettiness doesn’t end there.
In her spare time, McCloskey keeps monarch butterflies. The species is one of the best known in North America and is easily recognizable thanks to the insects’ delicate orange, black and white-spotted wings.
Monarch butterflies live throughout the east of North America. And each year in late summer the entire population begins an epic migration south. During this journey, the insects flock from the north and central United States to the warmer climes of Florida and Mexico.
Like all butterfly species, monarchs start life as eggs. They then hatch as caterpillars before turning into a pupa. During this stage, while nestled into a cocoon, the caterpillar begins its amazing metamorphosis to become a beautiful butterfly.
McCloskey’s journey with her monarchs began in October 2017 when she found a few caterpillars in her garden. The costume designer subsequently decided to help the insects on their way a little. So, she decided to move them to a safer home.
However, McCloskey had no experience of raising butterflies in the past. “I had no idea what to do, other than to keep them in a glass tank and feed them, and wait,” she admitted on Facebook in January 2017. “Little did I know there was much more involved.”
McCloskey had little choice but to learn on the job. So, she threw herself into some research. “I read up on them, as much as I could, joined a great group and experienced many losses in addition to many, many more successes,” she revealed.
Just as McCloskey had got her army of caterpillars to the pupa stage, though, disaster struck. The cocoons had caught the eye of her house cat Floki. And to McCloskey’s horror, the kitty thought that it would be fun to start swatting them around.
McCloskey did everything in her power to prevent Floki from hurting one of the pupae. The damage was already done, however. The cat had managed to kill one by knocking it to the ground and had also severely harmed another.
Explaining the damage that Floki had caused, in January 2018 McCloskey told The Washington Post, “It had a crack in the cocoon.” Still, she refused to give up on the little pupa. “I thought, ‘Please don’t let it die,’” she added.
By this point, though, the butterfly’s fate was outside of McCloskey’s control. All that she could do now was wait until it emerged from its metamorphosis and survey the damage. So, McCloskey sat tight for a few days awaiting the insect’s emergence.
When the butterfly finally broke free of its cocoon, its injuries were clear to see. Both the upper and lower wings on its left side were severely torn. As a result, the insect was unable to fly and would never make the journey south like the rest of its species.
After caring for the butterfly since he was a caterpillar, McCloskey was upset. Deflated, she turned to Facebook to vent her disappointment. But that was when a friend of hers offered a glimmer of hope.
McCloskey’s pal sent her the link to a video of a step-by-step tutorial on how to fix butterfly wings. The procedure would require extreme attention to detail and a steady hand. But thanks to her work as a costume designer, McCloskey had both in spades.
Explaining her decision to operate, McCloskey said, “Because of the work I do, it was a no-brainer.” So, the wannabe surgeon began gathering her tools. Namely, she needed scissors, tweezers, a coat hanger, glue, a towel and some talcum powder.
First, McCloskey secured the insect using the hanger. Butterflies don’t have nerve endings in their wings, so she could cut the damaged wing away without hurting the creature. Once she’d removed it, McCloskey glued on the wing of another monarch that had passed away a few days prior.
In fact, the entire fiddly process took just ten minutes. The hardest part was fitting the butterfly’s new wing correctly. “You have to be sure the donor wing you have fits,” McCloskey explained. “It overlaps by less than a millimeter, and I used the tiniest bit of glue. It is such a scant amount of glue.”
Following the procedure, McCloskey sprinkled the butterfly with talc in order to prevent its wings from sticking together. Then, when she felt that the insect was ready, she released it into her garden with the other butterflies. And thankfully, the prosthetic wing worked a treat.
Describing the last time that she saw the butterfly, McCloskey said, “He landed on some bushes, and sure enough, when I went to reach for him, he flew up in the direction of the sun.” And the costume designer couldn’t have been happier. “Hopefully he’s having a margarita down in Mexico with his buddies,” she added.