Lessons On Life From Caterpillars

I began my first experience this week with ‘rescuing’ monarch caterpillars from predators or harsh elements. I discovered fourteen (!) caterpillars on my milkweed plants and based on the advise of several monarch social media groups and other friends with monarch expertise, brought thirteen indoors. I don’t know a lot about monarch butterflies. I’ve heard their numbers are drastically dwindling in our region due to pesticides, and that very few survive disease and/or predators if left alone to mother nature.


I had no idea what I was getting myself into, as I tediously coaxed the hungry caterpillars onto fresh milkweed leaves and stems, to transfer into mesh containers. I had a quick twenty-four-hour learning curve as these big cats were already beginning to spin their silks before I could get them into a properly sealed container. After a quick local internet search, I ran down to a local store to buy a pop-up, zippered laundry basket, only to discover holes for handles that I had to quickly sew tule across to block escape routes. I am not a seamstress by any stretch of imagination, so dealing with tule and a needle was a tortuous and annoying task.


Once the containers were sealed securely, I transferred ten fat caterpillars and one chrysalis that had already formed on a milkweed stem propped through saran-wrap in a cup of water. Two chrysalides had already formed in separate mesh containers, so I put them under my umbrella netting, sealing the container openings with T-shirts, towels and rubberbands.


By the next day all but one caterpillar had morphed into a solid green chrysalis hanging from the mesh at the top of the laundry basket. The final caterpillar shed its face to reveal a beautiful green chrysalis in front of me just three days after I had rescued it. See my video of this transformation here:

Video of Rescued Butterfly Eclosing

I barely had enough time to get these caterpillars into containers before they morphed into chrysalides. The fast-paced learning curve that was keeping me on my toes took another sharp turn when I discovered four chrysalides turning brown and one with long white strings hanging from it. This was my first heartbreak; discovering I had to freeze these chrysalides due to the parasite fly that had infected them.


Down to nine small, beautiful, dainty light-green chrysalides with sparkly gold bands around the top layers, I have begun the countdown to see how many butterflies will survive to emerge healthfully.


What compelled me to drop all my plans to put so much effort into creeping crawling things I know very little about? (Some of my friends thought I’d gone off the deep end when they heard about my project.) Especially considering I know next to nothing about the monarch, am generally freaked out by insects of any kind, and already have too many irons in the fire, my singular focus must seem a bit bizarre.


But, I instinctively knew the value of this life-form, or rather, the value of any life-form, and wanted to protect it if it could be in my powers to do so. I had no idea, and still don’t, if my efforts would save even one monarch. But since it is a form of life, it is precious and worth every effort.


Now I am seeing the philosophical meaning to this experience and how it opens my eyes to the challenge for me to see each person in my life through the same filter. In fact, for me to value the dignity of people around me, fundamentally I must value my own life as much. Deepening my vision to see past differences and flaws to revere the sanctity of each individual life underlying these superficialities is my new determination. Wow, what a bunch of caterpillars have taught me about my limited life-view. Imagine what an emerging butterfly will accomplish!