Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Friday evening when I returned home from work the 4' tomato plant, which to date has failed to bring forth fruit, was standing strong in the yard. It's the lone vegetable plant we've put in the ground so far. I walk past it nightly and acknowledge its presence and its lack of tomatoes.

Saturday morning was, as Saturday mornings always are, very rushed. The girls must be off to their gym & dance class at 9:30 having been fed and properly attired, with their hair fastened out of their faces. It never gets easier. Jeremiah took them to the Y so he could work out during their class and I took Lola on a long walk. When Jeremiah returned, I was already home cleaning.

"You've got to come out here and see this" he said to me, indicating the back yard. So I headed outside and there, weight swaying the top rung of our 4' tomato plant, was the fattest caterpillar I'd ever chanced to meet. I fully expected it, as I leaned in for close inspection of his all-too busy mandibles, to rear his head and demand "Whoooo are yoooooou?" The main difference here being that this caterpillar had clearly only partaken of the side that makes you bigger.

The bottom 18" of the plant remained leafy. Everything else was pretty much gone. One caterpillar. One night. Worse, there was a pile of turds on the ground directly beneath him, no smaller than rabbit pellets. "Holy crap" I said. The girls were also fascinated. Kate decided she wanted to bring him to her class for show and tell. I happily complied, pounding small holes into the lid of a mason jar and filling it with the remaining top leaves of the plant and the giant larva. Further investigation taught us that he was a tobacco hornworm. Within minutes of being placed in the jar he'd worked through another leaf (we could watch him chowing down, it was cool) and generated 5 more turds. "I don't know if this guy's going to make till Monday" I warned Kate.

Throughout the remainder of the day she carried the jar of caterpillar and poop around with her. They built a large fort in the living room and he was moved in as the "fort mascot". A mere hour or so into his tenure in the jar I was seeking out more leaves to give him.

It was an extremely busy day. We're leaving for vacation next week and I want the house to be clean when we return, so I was cleaning like a maniac. The girls colored, drew, played a game, held an elaborate birthday party for my old doll Mandy, who lives with Kate now, and generally undid everything I spent the day doing. I forgot about the bug.

This morning, wandering around the house with a cup of coffee in a cheerful Sunday morning haze, I suddenly thought of him. I located his jar amidst the rubble of what had been the fort. That must've been some birthday party. Not only were the leaves entirely gone, so were nearly all their branches. There, at the bottom of the jar, atop an astonishing pile of his own excrement, lay Mr. Tobacco Hornworm. "Kate, " I said "I'm very sorry but your caterpillar didn't make it." Kate looked up at me, "he 'didn't make it'? What does that mean?" I sighed, sipped my coffee and replied "he's dead, love." She pursed her lips and looked off just beyond my shoulder. Finally she shrugged and said "Oh well."

I threw out the entire jar. Let us remember him as he was in life - fat, happy and a little blurry.


karen said...

It was really nice of you to grow all those tomato leaves for that caterpillar. Think of how irked you'd be if there had been fruit on that plant!

LMP said...

I'd be extremely irked. I sort of was anyway, but there was no getting the leaves back so I opted for making it a learning moment. What was most annoying to me was that earlier this summer I found tiny versions of this big daddy on my parsley. I winged them off and prevented their return with my organic bug repellent. I forgot to get the tomato plant. It's been sprayed now, should it wish to make a comeback.

Brooklyn Volunteer said...

This post was fascinating. I have never seen a catepillar like that. Too cool.

*pab said...

That is one big caterpillar. Whoa.

Richard said...

Elizabeth would have name him which would then have required a funeral followed by a period of mourning.

LMP said...

I think Kate's mourning on the INSIDE.