Caterpillar (1/4, Lifecycle)

* * * The most beautiful variety of caterpillars that I attract to my backyard are black swallowtails, who love fennel and parsley. (The photo at the very top, same type, is colorized, but all the photos on this post were taken in my backyard.) * * *

If you ask me, in the world of analogy, caterpillars get a bum rap. True, they do suffer by comparison with their flashy, post-metamorphosized selves, but let’s be fair. Caterpillars are fascinating in their own right. After all, they have their rightful place in the world. In fact, I have dedicated my backyard garden to them. I call it my butterfly garden, but truth be told, it is a caterpillar garden.

*** Also a black swallowtail, at an earlier stage. ***

Why? Because, while butterflies will visit and sip from any number of nectar flowers, a butterfly will lay its eggs only on one or a handful of types of host plants — and those plants are different for each of the many species of butterflies. When the eggs hatch, the tiny, barely visible little larvae start munching on the leaf on which their wise mother laid them, because that’s the only kind of plant they can eat. FUN FACT: How does a butterfly know when she has found the right kind of plant on which to lay her eggs? She tastes it — with her feet!

I call it my butterfly garden,
but truth be told,
it is a caterpillar garden.

* * * Gulf fritillary. Host plant: passionflower vine* * *

And that’s the one thing that caterpillars are very, very good at: eating. That’s their job as caterpillars, to eat and grow, eat and grow. The bigger they grow, the more they eat. And the more they eat, the bigger they grow. They will shed their skins several times, sometimes changing their appearance in more ways than just size, as they progress through the larval stage.

*** The mighty monarch! Host plant: milkweed ***

And before you know it, they may have eaten your host plants down to mere sticks! I’ve had Gulf fritillaries decimate whole passionflower vines, but the most notorious are our beloved monarchs and their host plant, milkweed. You know you’ve become a real butterfly gardener when you have to make an emergency run to the garden store asking frantically where they keep the milkweed! Having watched them with fascination for a few weeks, they’ve become like your children — and you can’t watch your children starve!

*** Giant Swallowtails are homely caterpillars whose natural camouflage looks like bird droppings — ick! But they become surprisingly beautiful butterflies! Host plant: citrus (this is a lemon tree). ***

To me, caterpillars symbolize us in the first part of our lives. There are these important tasks that we have to tackle: going to school, finding an identity, becoming independent, forming/raising a family, establishing a career. It’s exhausting! and it takes a lot of perseverance. I can identify with the caterpillar’s single-minded, task oriented determination. I remember feeling like I never had a moment to rest, no chance to just stop and look around. I don’t know how much a caterpillar can see or sense, but for most of its existence in that stage, it does not seem interested in anything but the leaf it happens to be on — until it runs out of leaf to eat or encounters some competition from another caterpillar. Then it will crawl away to find the next available leaf, and when it finds it, it will get back to the business of consuming and growing. It’s a caterpillar. That’s what it does. That’s its job. And it’s beautiful in its own way.

It just doesn’t yet know what God has in store for it.

Next post: Chrysalis (2/4, Lifecycle)

2 Comments on “Caterpillar (1/4, Lifecycle)”

  1. Absolutely beautiful photos! And the analogy struck me deeply! I’ve read Richard Rohr’s, “Falling Upward”, and wondered why we spend so much energy building our egos, only to give them up. LOVE this❣️

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  2. Thank you, Nancy. Falling Upward was a revelation to me, and I had it in mind with this post. ❤

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