Toevoegen aan bladwijzer

(Alleen in het Engels)

(last episode of a series of five)

Nature, as much as art, feeds us gently and appears to be necessary for us to feel well and balanced every day.

For a dozen years, I have been privileged enough to watch caterpillars evolve in their environment. In May, the best time of the year, I wish to share with you the advantages of such an experience.

We all know the mystery about “what was first, egg or chicken?”. Caterpillars are different as they do come out of an egg, but not the other way round. Denis Diderot, the writer, evokes this question in his novel « The dream of Alembert ».

Among the seasonal atmospheric changes, I would like to talk about the full metamorphosis of the little peacock moth, which is a beautiful living creature of our region. It becomes active as soon as spring starts again, alongside a pleasant flower, the wood anemone.

After mating, the female peacock moth carefully glues brown eggs on a blackthorn, its host plant. The leaves of the tree then feed the young for two and a half months before the peacock moth clutches them. 

This insect measures about 1 mm at birth before reaching up to 6 or 7 cm.

The caterpillar extracts itself from a 1.5 mm egg and eats its protein-rich shell as a good start in life!

What is a caterpillar?

It has the internal organisation of an animal: mouth, digestive tract, nervous, circulatory and sensitive systems, heart, aorta, intestines.

It has 6 true thoracic legs (which will become the legs of the butterfly) to walk and grab leaves. Its 5 other pairs of false posterior legs are some muscular suckers so that the caterpillar can cling.

The morphology of a caterpillar is like an organism with a soft cuticle, divided in 3 parts (head, thorax, abdomen). It is composed of 12 single eyes or stemmata; breathing orifices on the side or stigmata; organs called palps that bring food to the mouth; seriginous glands, the spinnerets, that produce a liquid silk hardening in the air and flowing out of a hole under the head. 

The dangers

To survive day after day, a caterpillar must live in constant uncertainty, on the lookout, trembling and camouflaging.

If there is any threat (beak, mandible, rain, wind, human), the caterpillar is able to suddenly drop to the ground thanks to a silk thread made instantly, which it will manage to climb up as soon as the danger is over. 

Feeding and growing up

The caterpillars eat the 1 cm2 size blackthorn leaves with much refinement and coordination. Then, their droppings fall off and naturally fertilise the soil.

As the days go by, the caterpillar gets bigger and becomes more independent, moving away from its fellow caterpillars, gradually improving its dexterity and endurance through its undulations.

The shrub of the adopted species, identified with its fine sense of smell, will then become its ultimate restaurant, chosen as soon as the parents had laid their eggs.

Transformations take place: the body grows and the garment cracks under the internal thrust as it has become too tight. Another one appears, of a larger size, fitting perfectly for a few weeks.  

The caterpillar goes through 5 moulting, with a progressive cuticular pigmentation until it becomes of a fluorescent green with yellow or pink dots (see the introductory picture).

These harmless and beneficial caterpillars, symbols of a complex nature, have been raised and fed for years in my garden. They have also travelled in the schools and old people’s homes of the region where they could be admired, recognized and touched without any fear.

The presence and contact of the caterpillars have made people of many generations happy and charmed by the ephemeral beauty of their colours.

But unfortunately, they are often victims of the ignorance of some, who damage or even destroy their habitat. 

To inhabit the world with poetry is to live in contemplation before all.”

(Christian Bobin)

With the authorization of l’Est Eclair / Libération Champagne

Head and featured photos: Caterpillars©Yves Meurville