The Death Dance Butterfly is a majestic and elegant insect that acquired its name because of the 'dance' that it performs before each feast, which is a diet consisting mainly of the liquids that they extract from the dead. Due to their rarity, their disturbing nature, eerie beauty, and the simple fact that they've only ever been seen lingering about dying or dead things, they earned their second name, "Queprur's Companion". Though harmless, it is often that - should anyone ever be graced with a sighting of a group of these graceful and pulchritudinous butterflies - these strange creatures are, nevertheless, steered clear of out of sheer superstition.
Picture description. A Death Dance Butterfly setting down on a corpse. Image drawn by Seeker.
The Death Dance could be considered a rather large butterfly, while still
remaining almost painfully elegant in form, with a wingspan that ranges between
one and a half to two palmspans.
Both sexes of this insect are equally beautiful and practically impossible to
tell apart, save for the fact that the females tend to be bigger than the males.
Their wings are elaborate and, instead of consisting of two wings, consist of four almost entirely separate wings, two somewhat overlapping each other on either side of the body. The front of its first wing is curved up into a sharp point, which trails out, away from the wing for a nailsbreadth or so. And, as you move further down the wing, it slops down to plume out near the bottom in a swirling, slightly tattered and smoke-esque design. The back wing is in the shape of a large oval, the outside edge of which appears to be tattered and torn, the frayed style only becoming more prominent towards the bottom of the wing. However, both wings have a thin tail that trails out from the end of their wings, that seemingly forms an outward-facing hook which is extremely reminiscent of a sickle, yet is feathery-soft to the touch, contrary to its appearance.
All too befitting of their namesake, the colouration of Queprur's Companion's wings are all pretty much the same, and very little variation of their pattern exists. The base of the appendage is always a very dark grey, which quickly fades out into a sheer white. However, each point and tatter or fray on the alae is also grey, giving it a bruised appearance. The butterfly's wing has an intricate lace work of black veins sprawling across their wings, which have often been related to the gnarled branches of dead trees. The rarely seen underside of the butterfly's wings, as they usually keep their wings parallel with whatever they've landed on, is void of any design at all. Instead, it is completely black with a rough-looking texture to it, which gives the illusion that the underside have been burned. The sheer black underside also may, or may not possess a very dull brown or green sheen.
Its head is a slightly rounded, triangular shape and completely lacks eyes, instead making up for it with the six antennae that are situated in a row across its narrow forehead. The antennae are fashioned in such a way that, if one were able to get close enough to this insect, it would very much look like the Crown of the Fallen, which Queprur, the Goddess of Death, is oft depicted wearing. Dark grey in colour, the pointed ends on the two innermost antennae, which are also the longest at about half a palmspan, are tipped in white. Its tapered nose has a flexible white proboscis that is slightly longer than usual, and curls up tightly under the butterfly's chin when not in use.
The butterfly's velvety black body is thicker towards the head, tapering down to a gentle point towards the butt, and can be anywhere between half a palmspan to one palmspan in length. It is covered in very soft, fluffy fur which starts barely a grain in length at either end of the body and can be up to one nailsbreadth in length as you move towards the midsection of the body. Six long, spindly legs protrude from the muscled abdomen of this insect, flowing down into white-tipped feet which curl up slightly. Wispy, stiffly hooked short, grey hairs cover the bottom half of its legs, allowing the butterfly to catch and rest upon surfaces that they would otherwise slide off of. However, the hairs are so stiff that it may prick the skin should one of these eerily beautiful butterflies land upon you, though such an occurrence is extraordinarily rare if you are not dead.
Because of the Death Dance's complete lack of eyes, effectively leaving this
beautiful insect blind, they have developed another way of detecting things.
What, one might ask, is keeping this supposedly graceful butterfly from flying
into a tree, or the broad side of a barn?
The simple answer is thought to be smell. In fact, this butterfly's sense of smell is supposedly strong enough that it can track a dead or dying body from strals away. It is in this way that they find food and avoid predators, as each thing has its very own, distinct scent. It is believed that the insect's ability is so pronounced that it can literally 'see' the world through it and, thus, is completely unhindered by trivial things, like complete lack of light.
Yet, no matter how much elegant grace this insect possesses, there is simply no way of changing what is on the inside. Most likely due to their specific diet of carcasses, the Queprur's Companion is highly poisonous. Ingesting one would undoubtedly be fatal, no matter what one watered it down with. They are so toxic that, if one were to crush this insect and get any of its innards on their skin, it can be rather abrasive.
Territory. The Death Dances strictly live within the limits of the Thaelon Forest, and only sparsely so. It is rare that one would see one of these majestic butterflies outside of the forest, though it does happen on very scarce occasions. Though, it is almost just as rare to see them at all, whether one is deep within the forest or skirting its fringe. It is to be noted that these butterflies have a strong tendency to reside mainly in the Ó'phyría, much preferring the shade that it provides. Despite its residence throughout this expansive woodland, the insect does tend to try to steer clear of the larger clearings of the forest. It is thought that the butterfly's distinct preference for the shade is simply an automatic instinct as means of continuing on their species since their eggs are so susceptible to damage via sunlight.
Habitat/Behaviour. The Death Dance Butterfly usually is only active after sunset, being a mostly nocturnal insect. It is thought by some that, because of their intensely strong sense of smell, they can smell when the sun sets and rises, however such assumptions are simply outrageous. The butterfly also is highly reluctant to leave the forest. However, when in desperate need of food, they will sometimes be active during the day or even test the limits of their home in order to heighten their chances of finding a carcass. The simple fact that the insect seemingly dares not venture away from its home results in their rarity.
Dead bodies - animal and human alike - are the ever important hinge upon which the butterfly exists. It is their food, their mating ground, and their birthplace, spending their entire life in search of food, which can be anywhere up to half a year in length. Because of the insect's obsession with finding food, they generally tend to either avoid or completely ignore the presence of any other animals. Each feast is also usually the only time at which the butterflies interact with each other. Nothing seems to matter to them at all, other than the necessary actions to take in order to survive and produce the next generation.
Diet. This insect is a scavenger, in of the fact that it will not kill to have a meal, even if it is starving. To put it rather simply, the Death Dance's diet consists strictly of the dead, whether it be a person or an animal doesn't really matter. The butterflies will eat dead insects, however insects are too small to lay more than one egg on, therefore they prefer larger animals to dine upon. The larvae devour any dead flesh that may be at their disposal, which is usually provided to them rather easily due to the fact that they are laid in corpses. The adult butterflies sustain themselves via the liquids extracted from the carcasses that they find. When there is a lack of dead animals or people, the butterflies will then resort to attempting to eat dead plants. However, this is simply a means of struggling to stay alive and, because they receive little to no nutrition from dead plants, they often will die within a week should they not find a corpse of some kind to feast upon.
Mating. The discovery of a corpse results in a very specific procedure, which consists of dancing, mating, feasting, and laying eggs. However, the butterflies are very particular about how they go about this, absolutely everything having to be done in perfect order. Upon finding the corpse, they wait until a group accumulates before they commence the process. The dance must be performed before they will mate, the mating must occur before they will feast, and the feast takes the required amount of time before the females can lay their eggs. If, at any point during this elaborate sequence, the butterflies are disturbed, they will scatter and wait an hour before attempting the entire thing over again.
The dance is elegant and always done in the exact same way, though no matter how many times one witnesses it, it is hard to become bored with such a beautiful display. It is a play which displays the female's dominance over the males. The female butterflies, which generally tend to be larger than the males, start off the performance. They swoop and flutter in elegantly elaborate gestures above the body, weaving between and circling around each other as the males gather below, resting upon the carcass that is silently waiting to be their feast. Then, after a few moments, they dive down towards the males that have accumulated to form their audience, seemingly in attack. The males quickly take to flight, scattering out several fores in seemingly random direction away from the body, as the females mass together above the body, creating an ever-moving spiral as they wait. Then the males ascend a few peds above the feast-site before plummeting down towards the spiral, each picking a female with which to dance. They twirl around almost recklessly with the opposite sex for a few moments before the female 'slash' the male butterfly across the wings with their sickle-shaped tails. It is then that the males gently glide down to once more rest upon the body and are, shortly after, joined by the females.
There is no real insight as to why they do this, though it has been speculated that it is a way of choosing a mate, their male dance partner at the end being who they decide upon. However, this has never really been proven.
Before each feast, they mate. Mating takes half an hour or so and, during which, the butterflies secrete a fluid that is lethal when ingested, the smell of which does a good job of deterring any animals that would otherwise eat the carcass. They will spend most of the night eating, before laying their eggs. Each female is only able to lay five to six eggs, and they do so anywhere on the carcass, though they seem to favour the eyes, mouth, and ears. Then the parent butterflies part ways in small groups of four or six so that they can find a hole or a particularly shaded place to rest for the day.
Unless the eggs are laid inside the mouth or ears, or other well shaded areas in the corpse, less than half of them have a chance of surviving the day that it takes for them to finish developing. Unlike most butterfly eggs, which are strongly protected against being dried out by the sunlight, the Death Dance's eggs do not have such a defense. If the egg survives, they hatch at midnight the next night and the larvae immediately burrow their way deep into the carcass. They spend the next two weeks molting and eating absolutely everything inside the corpse, from organs to bones. However, because the larvae eat so much so quickly, if there are too many of them then they might eat each other.
The beginning of the third week, at about noon, they will find a heavily shaded place, where they then spin their cocoon. The larvae secrete a fluid as they cocoon themselves, much like the one that the mating butterflies do, in order to fend off possible predators.
Their gestation period within the cocoon can last anywhere between one and two weeks. Once finished developing, they break free of their cocoon at nightfall, which usually takes twenty minutes to achieve, before scaling a tree so they can hang upside-down in order to inflate and dry their wings. It takes half an hour for their wings to fully inflate, and another three hours for them to dry. At which point, they spend the rest of the night practicing flight patterns, which usually consist of graceful swooping maneuvers. When it is close to sunrise, they retreat to a dark place to rest for the day, and then spend the rest of their life searching for food and mating.
Usages. There are only two uses that this butterfly could be put to. This insect's larvae have been found on very rare occasions, eating delightfully away at the carcass that they had been laid in. It has been discovered that the larvae can be used to clean wounds, due to the fact that they only eat dead flesh and will not take a curious nibble at anything that is still even remotely alive.
The second use found for the Death Dance butterfly is of more sinister intentions. Should one crush one of these beautiful creatures as finely as possible and simply dissolve it down into liquid using water, they can make a very potent and completely lethal poison. But, good luck catching any of them for such a purpose, they can smell you from a stral away.
Researchers. Much of what is known about the Death Dance Butterfly is from the very dedicated researcher, Leifloff Sjugnarr. He spent several months in the Thaelon Forest studying this unique butterfly and, through his experiments, he discovered that the insect is eyeless and thus blind. He also discovered that the butterfly navigates via its spectacular sense of smell.