Monarchs usually have four wings--two on each side--but I found one on a bush at Littlebrook Elementary a couple days ago that had only three. That explained why it didn't fly away when I approached. When I presented it with my finger, it crawled on, and I noticed it had only four legs, instead of the usual six.
It looked freshly born out of its chrysalis, undamaged other than by a quirk of genetic fate. I showed it to some kids on the playground, and then called my daughter and her friend over to have a look. They adopted it instantly, and took it home, naming it "Buggie". That afternoon, during a playdate, they reportedly taught Buggie to fly by dropping it from a treehouse, and also discovered that it would follow orders. Clearly, a highly intelligent little butterfly!
Overnight, it stayed outside in a terrarium, with a squished tomato for food. The next day, it traveled back to school for show and tell in a 4th grade classroom. My daughter, though, arrived home with a sad face. After school, while they were on the playground, Buggie flew up and kept right on going, despite having only three of its four wings. Monarchs, which fly all the way to Mexico for the winter, are notoriously strong flyers, but no one had expected three-winged Buggie to soar off into the wild blue yonder.
I tried to console my daughter, who in her grief wanted to go to Petco to buy another pet. We finally headed out in search of a monarch egg or larva in various patches of milkweed I know about, but found nothing. I told her that she and her friend had done well, had fed Buggie and taught it to fly, and that now it was where it is supposed to be, with others of its kind, flying strong and far.
She wasn't quite ready to feel good about this.