Lesson 6) Butterflies In Her Eyes (Arthropods as Ingredients)

The dungeons are brightly lit in soft greens and yellows, with plants, flowers, and tall prairie grass decorating the normally dark corners. The stone floor is covered in a soft- looking moss, with beds of clover and small daisies sprouting out. There are butterflies and dragonflies fluttering and buzzing around the room, creating a gentle humming sound. Instead of the normal brewing tables, there are small picnic blankets, one for each student, all spread out. Professor von Graft is on a slightly larger blanket in the front of the classroom, scratching her growing puppy behind its large, velvety ears. The professor’s usual attire has changed from her robes of deep navy blue to a pair of khaki capris and a flannel shirt, complete with sneakers.The tiny copper moose is exploring the edges of the professor’s blanket, unsure of this change of scenery. A large blue butterfly flutters down and lands on one the moose’s antlers, flexing its wings and enjoying a brief rest. You make your way to a blanket, getting your books and parchment out as the rest of the class files in behind you.

I hope you find the scenery change to your liking as we begin today’s lesson. Please be kind to our friends flying about the room today, as they are quite fragile and delicate. They come to us complimentary from Professor Mitchell’s Third Year students who have been kind enough to do extra practice on their butterfly transformations for our class decor today.

Who recalls our discussion on phylum last year? It’s the designation right below kingdom and most of our potions ingredients come from the phylum Arthropoda, or arthropods. Insects, arachnids, and crustaceans are specific classes that make up the arthropods. For those wondering, insects are things such as beetles or cockroaches, arachnids are spiders and scorpions, and crustaceans are crabs or lobsters. Although many of the ingredients we use from this phylum are simply mundane or magical, there are an overwhelming number of creatures that display transitional qualities. There is also a remarkable variance in the effects that these creatures can have on a potions, from being vital to certain potions for heart health to increasing vitality and energy. We already touched on the dragonfly in Lesson Seven of Year One, but I thought that as we return from the midterm, it might be a good idea to take a look at a select few additional arthropods that are used as potions ingredients.

Scientists trace the beginning of the phylum Arthropoda to sometime during what is called the Cambrian Explosion between 570 and 530 million years ago. During this time, fossil evidence suggests an emergence of the major lineages of most life currently found on Earth. The species that appeared during this era were aquatic and most were relatively small in size. The compositions of these creatures are also typically simplistic. Major observable traits of arthropods - which can even be found in these early forms of life - include:

  • Bilateral symmetry: if you cut them down the center from head to tail, the left side would be a mirror image of the right
  • Paired appendages: an even number of legs, claws, wings, or other appendages that are paired
  • Segmented composition: we saw this when we discussed dragonflies, which have a head, thorax, and abdomen
  • A hard exoskeleton: this is typically made of a hard substance called chitin that they shed throughout their lives as they grow


Via Wikimedia Commons

An example of one of these early arthropods, which, of course, predates witches and wizards and therefore has no known use in potions, is the Sanctacaris, which exemplifies all of the physical attributes listed above. Feel free to take a moment to review the observable traits and try to identify how it is expressed on the illustration.

The Sanctacaris’ name translates to mean “saintly crab,” and it is considered to be an ancestor to arthropods such as spiders and scorpions. Again, as the only evidence we have of these early arthropods is fossil evidence, it is impossible to say which of these creatures (if any) possessed elemental magic in any form, or whether living creatures did not yet possess magical ability. It is unlikely, owing to their simple composition, that they possessed any powerful magic. However, as our own understanding of the derivation of magic remains so scarce, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty.


It is thought that insects emerged approximately 410 million years ago after splitting off from crustaceans. If you remember, in Year One, we briefly discuss the concept of common ancestry among species of dragons, and the theory that the different known dragon species descended from one species that branched off through adaptation and, ultimately, evolution. Eventually the basic genetic and biological differences between populations became distinct enough that they could be classified as different species. The same concept of a common ancestor can be applied to insects and crustaceans, though time has yielded a much greater difference between the classes.

However, the circumstances of the split are still contested. The earliest known species of insect suggests that it had already developed flight, which would indicate that arthropods were no longer entirely aquatic in nature. The class Insecta has thrived subsequently, and it is estimated that they make up approximately 90% of current multi-cellular animal life on the planet.


It is important to note that the name cockroach does not refer to a single species, but rather a group of insects that consists of over 4,600 species. The most commonly recognized species are the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) and the Oriental cockroach or waterbug (Blatta orientalis). Termites also belong to this same order of insect, and are in fact cockroaches that adapted to ingest wood. The earliest fossils from this order date back to between 354 and 295 million years ago, and evidence has been found of the modern cockroach living over 100 million years ago. Cockroaches survived the famous mass extinction of the dinosaurs, and for this longevity, it is often suggested that cockroaches are among the hardiest creatures on the planet.

Despite the negative connotation many current societies have with the cockroach, healers all over the world have been using the insect in mundane remedies and magical potions for over one thousand years. There is record of their magical medicinal use from Rome to Egypt to as far as China and Southeast Asia. As recently as the 19th century, healers in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the International Statute of Secrecy is still often stretched just a little bit, used cockroach tea for medicinal purposes when treating both magical and non-magical clients.

In the magical world, the American cockroach is a valuable transitional ingredient in certain potions that help treat and manage heart disease and other pulmonary issues. The Pacifying Potion, often used to treat trauma and anxiety attacks, also utilizes the magical properties of cockroaches in order to slow the heartbeat and calm pulmonary distress without causing drowsiness or other soporific effects. While the treat known as Cockroach Clusters is often mocked and used in pranking friends and relatives, it is thought that these sweets were initially created as a nutritious, more heart-healthy magical snack.

For witches and wizards who prefer to keep and harvest their own ingredients, the American cockroach is probably one of the easiest to maintain. Although it is possible to purchase cockroaches at your local apothecary, some potioneers and healers will keep a small colony in their home or potions closet. The American cockroach is omnivorous, or capable of eating both meat and vegetables, and has been known to eat everything from glue to rotting vegetables to cheese, spoiled meat, and bread. They have been known to go up to a month without food, although this is not recommended or at all ethical if you are keeping your own colony of cockroaches.

Via Wikimedia Commons


For the purpose of this lesson, we are only talking about true butterflies, in contrast to skippers or moth-butterflies. Butterflies are certainly held in higher romantic esteem than cockroaches and have long endured in magical and non-magical culture as symbols of rebirth or continuity of the soul. This is greatly owing to their transition from caterpillar to butterfly.

There are four “stages of life” for the butterfly, starting with their entrance into the world as an egg. The female butterfly typically attaches the egg to a leaf near an available food source. Once hatched, the caterpillar (also known as butterfly larva) will spend most of its time searching for food, typically as an herbivore, although some caterpillars are insectivores. While at this time wings are not visible, when dissected, one will find wing disks within the caterpillar, hinting at their eventual transformation. Caterpillars will typically shed their skin at least four times as they grow and reach their full size.

When the caterpillar has reached its full size, it will dedicate all of its time to finding a safe place in which to undergo pupal transformation. Often, this safe place will constitute returning to the underside of a leaf. In this transformation from caterpillar to pupa, the butterfly will moult, or shed its skin, one last time, revealing a hard chrysalis underneath the discarded skin. This phase of the butterfly’s life cycle can last weeks or even years as the caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. When this transformation is complete, the mature imago or adult butterfly will secrete a substance that softens the chrysalis and enables it to emerge. Butterflies have a pair of fore and hind wings that are covered in small scales as well as three pairs of legs.

One detail that is interesting to note is that lacewing flies, an important ingredient in the Polyjuice Potion, undergo a transformation from larva to grown adult through the creation of a silk cocoon, which they use to protect themselves similarly as they transition to adulthood. It is thought that this transformative ability may have some latent magical quality to it that is integral to this potion, with which the consumer undergoes a temporary transformation of appearance. However, lacewing flies are of a different order than butterflies, so the direct genetic connection is not as strong as between butterflies and moths, for example.

Wizards use both caterpillars and butterflies in potions, interestingly for different purposes. Caterpillars are very useful in potions and concoctions that shrink or eliminate blemishes, such as the Tolipan Blemish Blitzer. This may indicate that the magic they possess is somehow related to their immaturity and the fact that they are not yet fully adult. Caterpillars are also used in potions that help to regrow hair as well as finger and toenails. These potions are often consumed orally as well as applied to the region where hair or nail growth is desired. It is interesting that their potential for metamorphosis does not manifest in latent magical uses and qualities. In the creation of very early potions similar to the Polyjuice Potion, many potioneers experimented with caterpillars, thinking that the potential to transition from caterpillar to butterfly would yield positive results in a potions. However, to this day they have not been successful in creating a potions to this effect.

Potioneers often use butterflies, particularly butterfly wings, in certain potions that cause hallucinations and a trancelike state. Some magical beings claim that this trance helps them communicate more effectively with the Afterlife, although this has never been conclusively proven. What is known is that the magic within butterfly wings are capable of altering chemicals in the brain enough to create a temporary though intense magical hallucinatory state. Consuming potions with dragonfly wings can be dangerous, however: incorrect dosages or improper recipes can cause a permanent catatonic state or a permanent psychological break from reality

While the specific species used in potions can vary depending on the region in which the potions is brewed, the family Nymphalidae, which includes emperor and monarch butterflies, is the group most commonly used by potioneers both for caterpillars as well as butterflies. The effects of the potions do vary slightly species to species, but as long as a species of true butterfly is used, the overall impact should be almost identical.


The class Arachnida is composed of arthropods that include the scorpion, spiders, ticks, and mites. Arachnids all have eight jointed legs, and almost all currently in existence are terrestrial, or live on land. They are thought to have derived from crab-like ancestors over 380 million years ago. Today there are thought to be approximately one hundred thousand named species of arachnid. Most are carnivorous in nature, or they consume insects and other small animals in order to gain sustenance.


Although the first true spiders emerged approximately 300 million years ago, spiders with spinnerets as we see them today did not emerge until approximately 280 million years ago. While spiders are known to be venomous, one interesting thing to note about spider venom is that the toxins within the venom vary spider to spider. This variation causes certain spider venom to harm living creatures differently than another species’ venom. For example, the funnel-web spider of Australia’s venom has one toxin in its venom so specific, the only things harmed by it are humans, baby rats, monkeys, and fruit flies. Even adult rats are not impacted by this chemical: only the infant and immature rats. There are also spiders that, while their venom may not be immediately fatal to humans, have toxins that cause tissues to dissolve and break down after the bite has been administered.

One of the most common phobias among both non-magical and magical beings is what is known as arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders and creatures that resemble spiders. Studies have shown that up to 50% of women and 10% of men show signs of at least mild phobic responses to spiders. When considering the above information about spider venom, it may not be an entirely irrational fear at all: some hypothesize that this phobia developed as an early survival mechanism for humans, given the fatality of many spider bites even to fully adult humans.

In the non-magical world, spider venom is used in some cultures as a natural pesticide as well as to treat certain respiratory maladies. It is also currently being studied as a means of treating stroke, cardiac arrhythmia, and Alzheimer’s disease. They are often associated with the values of patience as well as mischief. Their webs also cause them to be associated with being able to weave their own worlds or control their own destiny.

In the magical world, potioneers and healers mostly use spiders of the suborder Araneomorphae when brewing potions. These are the typical, smaller spiders one usually sees in the home, in contrast to the Mygalomorphae, which includes tarantulas. Those of this suborder have fangs that point directly at one another, in contrast to tarantulas, whose fangs point more downwards. These spiders are typically used in confidence potions, although they are not an ingredient in Felix Felicis or other luck potions. Spiders are also used in their more mundane state to enhance certain magical poisons, though interestingly, they are also often used in the antidotes to those same poisons. One interesting thing to note about this is that spiders are not necessarily immune to their own venom, which means that it is not a magical transference of immunity when spiders are used in these antidotes.

While certain witches and wizards do keep their own colony of spiders in their labs and closets, most do not keep live spiders in their homes. Even when using small, more common spiders, those with children especially tend to avoid bringing large numbers of live spiders into the house, although tarantulas are not uncommon pets in some homes. Typically there may be a small jar with a limited number of living spiders or a collection of freshly harvested spiders from the apothecary kept in an airtight container.


Crustaceans have the most extensive fossil record of the arthropods discussed in this lesson, with evidence of early crustacean lifeforms reaching back to approximately 500 million years ago. There are a few species of crustacean, such as the tadpole shrimp (Triops cancriformis), which have been mostly unchanged for a few hundred million years. While they possess all of the physical features mentioned previously, crustaceans can have great variance in number of limbs, size, and appearance. They include shrimp, crabs, prawns, krill, lobsters, and crayfish, as well as a number of other animals commonly eaten by magic and non-magical beings in cuisines all over the world.

Via Wikimedia Commons

Mantis shrimp

Although the mantis shrimp, also known as the stomatopoda, is not a very common potions ingredient in Western Europe, it is relatively commonly used in certain Asian and Mediterranean potions. Fossil evidence of the mantis shrimp dates back over 65 million years to the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras. The two most notable features of this creature are also the two most commonly used in potions: the eyes as well as the claws.

The eyes of the mantis shrimp are used in certain sight restoration potions as well as sight-improvement potions. They are particularly good for potions to help those suffering from glaucoma, a disorder that involves built up pressure within the eye that can eventually lead to blindness.

The eyes of the mantis shrimp itself are rather unique. While humans have three types of color-receptive cones in our eyes, allowing us to see green, blue, red, and all of the colors derived from those colors (essentially the rainbow, as we know it), the mantis shrimp has up to sixteen color-receptive cones, meaning they can detect a massive variety and spectrum of colors entirely outside our own visual comprehension. The visual systems of the mantis shrimp are considered among the most complex in the animal kingdom, and they are able to detect various frequencies of light entirely outside human capabilities.

The mantis shrimp’s claws are another ingredient used in certain rarer and particularly potent strength, endurance, and speed potions. In fact, many of these potions have been outlawed for use at all times by many professional wizard sporting clubs, owing to their potency. There are standardized tests that check for traces of these potions before and after he or she competes to ensure they have not used them in any recent timeframe. There can also be serious side effects to taking these potions over long stretches of time, including permanent negative changes to the nervous and muscular systems.

Although preliminary research has yielded no satisfactory results, it is hypothesized that the mantis shrimp is not in fact a transitional species, but rather one that has its own ancient form of magic that we have not yet detected. Over so long a period of time - tens of millions of years - the magic may have shifted and evolved in ways that we currently are unable to comprehend. Thus, while we perceive their very real great show of aptitude with their claws and vision, there may also be some magical characteristic yet to be uncovered.

The mantis shrimp is a fascinating creature, and for the sake of the lesson today, I will not continue. However, I advise you to do some research on its visual capabilities as well as the incredible power it has in its claws (they are able to move at a speed of 23 meters per second from a still position, which produces all sorts of interesting effects around cavitation bubbles and sonoluminescence), and learn more about this colorful and ancient animal.

For the assignments this week, there will be a quiz of typical length, as well as an essay of at least 250 words discussing how the properties of one of the arthropods listed above could enhance or improve a potions that has different primary effects than those listed in the lesson. Please make sure to read the prompt within the essay carefully for further details, as well as specific points to be addressed.


In Year Two, Potions students will delve more deeply into potioneering, theory, and will explore in greater detail how certain potions can impact a witch or wizard's biological processes. Enroll