Last year Emilia received a butterfly habitat for her 4th birthday. I pictured wailing children watching me flounder around the backyard trying to catch butterflies, but thankfully that wasn’t the intent. The habitat came with a coupon and guide to ordering caterpillars from Insect Lore.
With the imminent approach of her 5thbirthday, I finally got around to ordering the caterpillars. They arrived by mail in a small plastic container. They didn’t move, and appeared to be quite dead, which just means that I am a truly horrible person. But wait! The accompanying pamphlet said not to worry if they didn’t move much at first, and sure enough, after a while, the little buggers started squirming around. I think they’d probably just been bracing themselves against the cruelty of the UPS man. Three worm-like creatures now eat from a half inch of caterpillar food that makes up a (seemingly solid but obviously edible) round disk on the floor of the container. They seem to be quite content, which just means that I am a truly phenomenal person.
Emilia named the caterpillars Joey, Mia and Charlie. Yesterday she “read” them Horton Hatches the Egg, careful to make sure they each had a chance to see the pictures. I wanted to read them The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but Emilia thought that might make them feel bad, because the caterpillar in the story feasts on fresh fruit, blueberry muffins, lollipops, sausages and ice cream cones. Joey, Mia and Charlie exist on brown sludge. Besides, Dr. Seuss routinely trumps Eric Carle in our house.
I want to make sure that my children grow up with greater knowledge than just how to make a good bloody Mary (though Lord knows that one is important), so I planning on discussing some of the Fun Facts about our Painted Lady Butterflies with my kids. For example, she may travel 1,000 miles in her lifetime (that is, if she makes it out of our house alive). She breathes through her abdomen (does that mean she can get an ab workout while she eats?). She tastes with her feet (ew). She has 10,000 eyes (so don’t try and put one over on her, she sees all).
While all of those are fascinating tidbits, what’s most interesting to me is this: The caterpillar exists to gorge continually, striving to grow ever fatter. Joey, Mia and Charlie often eat so much that they appear to pass out face down in their food while eating. They rest for a bit, then wake to continue in their gluttonous pursuit. I’m not going to lie – that sounds totally awesome. But if I did that, I would become obese, get heart disease, and likely suffocate during one of my naps in a pool of my own delicious Alfredo.
If you think about it, Joey, Mia and Charlie have it made. They can eat themselves silly and what do they get? They get to nap for a week in a predator-free environment, then emerge entirely new, looking better than ever before, and now with the ability to fly. As long as a little kid doesn’t come along and try to feed one of them to a stray cat, or start to wonder what would happen if he or she pulled their wings off, life is good.