Rosemary Mosco: Butterflies Are Pretty, But They Can Be 'Pretty Gross'

A 19th century nursery rhyme insists that little girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice."

They're not, of course.

And neither are butterflies always "pretty." They can be "pretty gross," according to a delightful children's picture book, "Butterflies Are Pretty...Gross," by Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Jacob Souva.

Yes, they can.

Mosco is a science writer and naturalist who tells it like it is, not how we want it to be. No sugar-coating. No candy-coating. No coats.

It's all there: "Warning — this book contains top-secret information about butterflies! Prepare to be shocked and grossed out by this hilarious and totally true picture book introduction to a fascinating insect."

Impersonating a "pretty" butterfly, Mosco relates that "We flutter through meadows, we pose on fancy flowers, we show off our wings, we shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow."

Then she cautions "Don't turn the page. Close the book. You're done. The story's over. Nothing to see here."

Oh, but there is! 

Mosco goes on to tell us what butterflies land on, what they eat, what they slurp and other scientific facts. (We won't spoil the endings.)

It's a fantastic book--especially for those interested in science--as she covers the metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult. Readers, both children and adults, will learn something new on each page. 

Mosco mentions seven butterfly species, including the Monarch, Danaus plexippus; Harvester, Feniseca tarquinius; Alcon Blue, Phengaris alcon; Red Cracker, Hamadryas amphinome; Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes; Red-Banded Hair Streak, Calycopis cecrops; and Julia Heliconian, Dryas iulia

Butterflies, she points out, taste with their feet, and a Monarch mama "tastes the leaves" before laying her eggs.  Then she asks "What if your parents stuck their feet in your cereal before you ate it?"

Can't you just hear young readers or listeners yelling "Yecch"? (Remembrances of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology tours when the guides say "Don't say yecch! Say interesting!" And they do!)

Mosco's passion for insects shines through in this book. You may remember her as the co-author of the New York Times' bestseller, "The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid." The colorful illustrations are kid-friendly and as memorable as the text.

Yes, Rosemary Mosco does have a favorite butterfly. And it's not the Monarch. The author, who lives in New England, says it's the Guava Skimmer, Phocides polybius. Native to the Americas, this species was first described by Johan Christian Fabricius in 1793. 

"It's a tropical butterfly," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "In the United States, it's recorded only as a stray from Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas."

"This species (Phocidespolybius) is nearly everyone's favorite," according to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) of South Texas. "The adult often makes long stops at flowers allowing for excellent photographs to be taken."

(Editor's Note: For information on butterflies found in the Central Valley of California, access Professor Art Shapiro's research website. He has been studying butterfly populations in the valley since 1972.)