Sunday, May 13, 2012

Caterpillar Compassion

As it seemed to a kid growing up the 70’s, the way to rid of tent caterpillar nests in trees was to torch the gnarled, silky tents. True, it wasn’t the most humane way of ridding of those pesky little leaf devouring pests. I remember dads up and down the street happily setting fire to branches, cackling maniacally; how the whole neighbourhood didn’t go up in flames, I’ll never know. My dad was king of his yard, and if that was the way to get them gone, then that was how it was done.

Nowadays, in the spirit of environmentalism, humane pest control, and saving our forests (never mind our neighbourhoods) there are other ways of nest-destruction. Although some folks apparently still take to using fire, the use of pesticides is the norm. The pesticide-spraying planes zooming overhead send folks into an uproar over the true safety of those chemicals falling on our heads and pets. I don’t blame them, ‘cause you just never know (says me with my daily half-can of hairspray addiction).

So when a few caterpillar nests appeared in the trees in our yard, the king of our own yard followed in his father’s and forefather’s footsteps and plans were made to create fire.

When it came time to torch the little creatures, my youngest lad couldn’t bear the thought of the caterpillars perishing. Hats off to him for speaking his mind, making his voice heard, and for acting in the best interest of creatures great and small, no matter how ‘bad’ they are. The king of our yard complied – hats off to him, as well.

He reluctantly agreed that SOME of them had to meet their fateful end. They can destroy whole orchards of fruit trees, and he understands this. But one small nest of the resident furry friends was set-up in an aquarium in his room. Plexiglas aside, replicating their habitat was foremost and dirt, rocks, branches and a daily entrée of fresh leaves was started. A new silky tent appeared within a day as they settled in, and so began his obsession of checking on them every five minutes.

They are fed daily, and a light mist is sprayed with a water bottle to replicate rain, creating perfect environmental conditions. We researched and found they need sun to aid in digestion of their food so their aquarium faces the window. Their caregiver is proud he not only saved them from the human wielding a flame, but from winged predators. His pride, care and concern for beings typically thought of as disgusting and unsightly - both with their nest and the decimated trees in their wake - is not only charming, but should be commended. In this day in age where humans think they rule the earth constantly pulling out all the stops in the never-ending battle against Mother Nature, it’s refreshing.

True, the only thing separating them and my comfy bed is a thin wall of Plexiglas, but I am proud of the lad for taking the time and energy to take Mother Nature’s side. As little boys would be typically thought of as caterpillar squishing tyrants, he has taught us to think twice before turning up our noses at anything crawly.

They will eventually grow to full size (in less than 7 weeks!), and at the rate the darlings are growing, it will be sooner than later; we will then have to decide what to do. They will become a moth after spending two weeks in their own cocoon, and the circle of life will continue. Those moths living for barely 24 hours will lay their eggs somewhere secret and their struggle against pesticide, birds, running shoes and fire will continue

What will happen with our aquarium full of moths, I don’t know.

But I do know I received the best Mother’s Day gift ever. This wasn’t about me ‘doing something right’ in raising such a lad. He unknowingly gave me one of those life lessons - to love all things big and small, no matter how bad, and that everything needs a second chance.

And without my compassionate son, I would have never gained the knowledge of the life cycle of a tent caterpillar. Just what I always wanted.

(One week later, almost to the day the little guys were saved, we received notice from our maintenance folks - they will be spraying trees for 'chewing and sucking insects'. Go figure)


  1. Kudos for a compassionate child, Lisa, but what are you going to do with all those moths?

    1. Alice, the time will come that the circle-of-life will force his hand and they will have to be set free - and that time is drawing nearer with every day they grow bigger! Thank you for reading, and happy writing! Lisa

  2. If you need more of the little creatures I have a couple of apple trees with lots of 'em.

    1. Ha! No, um, we're good thanks - thanks for offering though! And thank you for reading, Al. Lisa

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