No? Me either. Nor in the 176 other photos I took. Nor can I spot the little beast in actual real life. But we know he is there. He is apparently some kind of phantom ninja caterpillar. Or possibly a young Snuffleupagus. We are not sure, as he has not stayed visible long enough for us to make a positive identification.
When we started this venture, there was no mystery. The kids found two black swallowtail caterpillars on Jane’s parsley plant. We dug out our old butterfly jungle (thanks again, Grandma) and made them a nice comfy home. With sticks! And fennel! It’s like a Barbie Dream House for caterpillars. And for three or four days they milled around, chomping happily, or at least we assumed it was a happy kind of chomping. There was, for example, no belligerent waving of tiny black feet. (Side note: did you know that a caterpillar only has three pairs of legs? Just the three pairs closest to the head. All the rest, so Jane tells me, are not true legs. They are, and I quote, muscular warts. Muscular. Warts. Ew.)
So all was blissful in the suburban butterfly jungle, and as a testimony to his happiness, Caterpillar #1 (Homer to his friends) pigged out on so much fresh-picked fennel that he could continue no longer in his present state of six-legged-many-muscular-wartedness, and he hung himself. From a stick, I mean, as happy caterpillars do.
The next day he looked like this:
Meanwhile, Happy Caterpillar #2 (aka Herotodus) continued his milling and munching. Second-favorite pastime: scaling invisible walls. Occasionally he would grow bored with the fennel and, for a diversion, burst out of his skin and eat the old one. (Photo mercifully unavailable.)
Thus far, no mysteries. A degree of grossness, perhaps, but my younger children seem to believe that is the Best Part of adopting caterpillars. Look! Five hundred tiny balls of poop! Jane tells them that no, the miracle of metamorphosis is the Best Part, but Beanie remains staunch in her conviction that butterflies are nice, but they are simply not as riveting as Creatures Who Eat Their Own Skin.
Anyway. Now we come to the mysterious part. Rose was the first to spot a third critter in the jungle. There was a skinny little wormish looking thing lurking on the branch near Homer. Pressing our noses to the plastic wall, we decided the Little Thing was another caterpillar, an itty bitty one, possibly just hatched. Perhaps, we surmised, he had entered the jungle as a stowaway on the most recent fennel delivery. I ran for the camera, hoping the zoom function would help us to make an ID.
But he was gone. I swear, only thirty seconds had passed and we were all right there talking about fennel and butterfly eggs. One moment we saw him, and the next, he was nowhere to be found. We peered into the jungle, searching every inch. No wormy thing.
Over the next day, I bet I spent a combined total of two hours hunting for that thing. We scrutinized every bump on the branches, every shadow among the feathery fennel leaves. Nada. Maybe, Rose suggested, he had crawled out one of the airholes in the top. After all, he was small enough to fit. This is the point when Scott decided it would be funny to tickle the back of my neck with his fingertips. Ah ha ha ha. You will be relieved to know that caterpillars appear unaffected by high-pitched human shrieking even when it occurs two feet from their teeny tiny caterpillar ears. Also, any partly deaf toddlers in the vicinity will be highly amused.
So: for some thirty-six hours, the searching and the shuddering. And then suddenly, there it was. Still teeny tiny, still hanging out by Homer. On Homer, actually. Homer has a groupie! Because, you know, metamorphosis is cool.
This time I was the sole witness of Wormish Thing’s reappearance. I had to show the kids. Once more I sprinted for the camera. Twenty seconds later I was back, already zooming my lens.
And it was gone. Again. Gone! Poof! Forget metamorphosis, this creature can teleport!
Later in the day, Rose spotted him halfway down Homer’s branch. Her story is uncorroborated, but I believe her.
He’s toying with us, I know it.
After I wrote all this, I happened to be passing by the butterfly jungle, pointedly not looking for the Thing, when a tiny wiggling caught my eye, and there he was again. Back at his favored post, on top of poor old Homer. Who has yet, by the way, to shed that last caterpillar skin and be a really truly chrysalis. Frankly, I’m a little concerned. I cannot help but suspect the Thing of nefarious purpose. What if he is not a baby caterpillar at all? What if his affection for Homer is not fraternal but rather the sort of affection I feel for, say, chocolate? Is it possible that in addition to his ninja powers he possesses a taste for Pupa?
Well, this time I was too quick for him. If he is up to no good, I’ve got a photo ID. Police detectives still carry magnifying glasses, right? Because they may need one in order to penetrate his Cunning Disguise. Ha HA! I will hide as a bump on a twig! Their Giant Human Eyes will never spot me! *click* Curses! They have a zoom lens! Crafty humans…
Thus ends the first installment of The Great Caterpillar (or Possibly Not a Caterpillar) Mystery. Next chapter to come when someone metamorphosizes or pupates or gets eaten or something. UPDATE: Part Two is here.
The Mouse in Winter
Sunday in the Park with Ducks
How an Aurora, Colorado Wildlife Refuge Inspired My New Fantasy Novel
A Fan Letter to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater