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Arts, Culture & Entertainment

The Thirsty Butterfly & the Flutist

Anastasia Tsioulcas from NPR's Deceptive Cadence blog brings us this feat of concentration: International music competitions are full of nail-biting moments for young musicians seeking top prizes. But Japanese-born, Chicago-based flutist Yukie Ota encountered a peculiar distraction Monday in the first round of the hugely competitive Carl Nielsen International Flute Competition in Odense, Denmark, which draws flutists aged 13 to 29.

As Ota played Pierrre Sancan's Sonatine for the judges, a butterfly first landed in her hair and then settled on her left eyebrow as she continued to perform. Only a brief glance upward belied her complete concentration as the insect opened and closed its wings.

I asked Dr. Bob Robbins, curator of lepidoptera at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, what the butterfly was doing there. Was it attracted by the lights? Something on her skin? Just the fluttery sound of her flute?

After taking a look at the video, Robbins told me that this was an Aglais io, or a Peacock butterfly, which is a very common species in Europe. He noted that it is "very weird" for a butterfly to come indoors like this, and that when butterflies land on people, it's usually because they are looking for salty water to drink.

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