"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A kaleidescope of butterflies

What is the collective noun for butterflies?  There seem to be a number.

A cumulep of butterflies;
A flight of butterflies;
A flutter of butterflies;
A kaleidoscope of butterflies;
A rabble of butterflies;
A swarm of butterflies.

The word cumulep is used in a thesis by Ronald A. Gagliardi quoted in an article on this webpage.  “A cloud or “cumulep” of fire-colored butterflies taking off from a mud puddle after drinking, could easily be interpreted as being flame-like.”   Cumulep is not a real word - it is a made-up one. (But then what are all the words we use nowadays but made-up ones that were popularised by particular writers or playwrights or through common usage?)   It is unclear whether Gagliardi has created the word or is quoting it from an un-named reference.   The word comes obviously from cumulus a type of cloud formation and lepidoptera, the scientific name for the butterflies and moths but it seems to me too clumsy a combination for a group of butterflies.  

An article by Jeannine Clark contains the following:-
"It isn’t often you drive into a storm of orange-and-black, tissue-paper-thin flapping wings. But on my way home one day, my car became engulfed in a cloud of butterflies - the tiny, delicate creatures dancing in a swirling, colorful blizzard. Their lightning-fast pace dropped butterfly dust on my windshield, as if the stamen from thousands of lilies had showered pollen all over my car.
I parked and got out, surrounded by a swarm of airborne beauty. It was an incredible site: a few landed on my shoulders and on top of my head. I could feel them flutter against my skin, giving me thousands of “butterfly kisses.” Some followed me into the house, while others lingered in my backyard, taking sips of nectar from flowering plants in bloom. I had never seen anything like this before; it was truly magnificent."

 Photo - Jeannine Clark
Surely this was a kaleidoscope or a flutter of butterflies since a cumulep, rabble, swarm or flight would not give “butterfly kisses”.


  1. I like the kaleidoscope... I experienced it two years ago when there were about a hundred newborn butterflies in "my park" for a couple of days. Now they are making so many changes around that area I doubt that will ever happen again.

  2. what a glorious and awesome sight (and feeling) that must have been! so sad, DT, that we humans keep demolishing this wonderful Eden-on-earth and eliminating the beauty of its creatures.

  3. I like a "cloud of butterflies" though a "flutter" seems more appropriate. The most interesting is a "murder of crows."

  4. I like "a cloud of butterflies" best, as mentioned in the article by Jeannine Clark.