Monday, March 13, 2006

Hazel's caterpillar.

Hazel's caterpillar was a beautiful caterpillar, furry and black with bright orange stripes. I identified it with the aid of Andrew Crowe's Which New Zealand Insect and Manaaki Whenua's "What is this bug?" as a woolly bear caterpillar and predicted that it would grow up to be a Magpie Moth (Nyctemera annulata).

caterpillar at home alive well and beautiful
After it had been collected from a plant in the garden and named "Hazel's caterpillar" it lived happily in the pasta sauce pottle with pierced lid that we keep very small and stupid pets in. She was proud of its voracious appetite and its growth. We were very excited when one day it had started spinning silk and hanging from the ceiling of its room. I read to Hazel about Bella and Rosa's caterpillar's chrysalis and showed her the photos while we waited for it to make a coccoon.

caterpillar's web
The next time we looked in the caterpillar had not made a coccoon but was lieing still on the floor of the pottle and some little fuzzy egg thingys had appeared beside it.

caterpillar with fuzzy egg-grub things
Hazel thought that maybe it was a Mummy caterpillar! I thought that it was more likely to be a parasitoid because if the woolly bear was interestingly neotonised to the extent that the caterpillar laid eggs then the sources I'd used for identification would have mentioned the fact and they hadn't, but neither did I manage to find what those thingys were. We waited for more data.

dead caterpillar with egg-grub things
As we waited Hazel's caterpillar shrank, lost its orange stripes and smelt dead. The loss of the orange stripes was what brought Hazel to the theory that the little thingys might be bad thingys that eat caterpillars. Idly reading my childhood copy of John Salmon's Butterflies of New Zealand (A.H. and A.W. Reed 1964) I read there are tiny insects called Chalcids which lay their eggs in live Cabbage White caterpillars and that on hatching they eat the host. Taking that back to Manaaki Whenua I found that Chalcids are wasps (Chalcidoidea (Insecta: Hymenoptera)), and taking that back to Andrew Crowe's Which New Zealand Insect I discovered that other wasps, particularly Ichneumanids, lay their eggs in chrysalises and caterpillars too.

Tonight we buried Hazel's caterpillar. Hazel had brought a special flat square stone (made of concrete) home from the campsite we were at in the weekend. We put the white wrapped-up egg thingys under the hedge in the back garden where they couldn't get at the caterpillar's body to eat it under the ground and we buried the caterpillar in the front garden. Hazel has written in blue crayon "Hazel's caterpillar" on the special flat stone to be its memorial and it was buried underneath, wrapped in its favourite kind of leaf. So Hazel's caterpillar died and she is very sad; giving herself up wholly to her sorrow like Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. I gave her flowers, she put them by her bed where could see them upon waking, gave me a beautiful tragic smile and said
I want you to tell all the Playcentre Mummies and Daddies that my caterpillar is dead and to write it on your blog so that other people can know too.
I expect she'll ask me to read her any comments.


Blogger Alan said...


Our chrysalises haven't quite made it yet either, although are yet to sport mouldy-looking bits. I was saving this up for a blog posting, but now the secret is out.

6:01 AM  
Anonymous Fleur said...

Our cabbage white literally exploded with loads of tiny green parasite larvae exiting thru the skin. Very impressive - now wish I had a taken a photo....

1:44 PM  
Blogger said...

Here is a big hug for Hazel. HUG!

It is what I always want when I am sad.

2:19 PM  
Blogger susan said...

Hazel says "Say nothing!"

8:25 PM  
Blogger Cate said...

I don't think any other caterpillar has ever received such a beautifully written, detailed tribute.

P.S. Thanks for the all of the caterpillar information. I had no idea . . .

1:28 AM  
Anonymous RUTH said...

Here's another hug for Hazel. HUG!

I am left thinking about different kinds of beauty - the expected butterfly vs. the translucent wings of wasps.

Heather and Kay have stickers from the $2 shop with fairies on them, some of which have butterfly wings and some have wings like dragonflies.

12:06 PM  

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