Wings of Freedom

Dec 19, 2013

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

That's the line that came to me Saturday when I released a week-old Gulf Fritillary butterfly I'd reared in our home. 

Kris Kristofferson penned that line in his hit song, "Me and Bobby McGee," popularized by Janis Joplin. Kristofferson most definitely was NOT thinking of Agraulis vanillae when he wrote that. According to, he was thinking of a time-tested movie plot. You know, boy loves girl, boy leaves girl, boy cannot forget girl.

Calling freedom a "two-edged sword," Kristofferson explained that the boy "was free when he left the girl, but it destroyed him. That’s where the line ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ came from."

Fact is, my little ol' December butterfly picked a terrible time to emerge in the habitat I purchased last summer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis. With outside temperatures dipping to 22 degrees, I didn't have the heart to make this a nothing-left-to-lose day. Not yet. So I fed it sugar water and waited for a better-chance-to-make-it day. 

When the temperature hit 55, I released it on a passionflower vine in our yard. My boy butterfly quickly fluttered away, on the wings of freedom, only to return a few minutes later and touch down on a clump of pampas grass.

I'm sure it never found a mate. In fact, between hungry predators and the just-chillin' weather, it probably ended up as a one-day butterfly.

However, there's always the promise of more butterflies. A quick peek beneath the burlap-covered passionflower vine revealed several caterpillars and chrysalids.