It was quite a serious conversation I’d just embarked on with a friend at a socially-distanced gathering in Alexandra Park (Hastings) on Thursday 2nd July, when my attention was grabbed by a HUMONGOUS, hairy, brown caterpillar stretched out across the trunk of a gorgeous copper beech tree.
“Excuse me,” I blurted in a rush of excitement as I abandoned my friend, to take a closer look. I apologised later on.
I’m only slightly obsessed with moths and butterflies (ask my wife if you want an honest opinion).
I was going to leave the caterpillar in situ but there was a little boy present at the gathering who seemed intent on poking it with a stick – and also I fancied the idea of bringing the caterpillar home to watch it pupate and then hatch into…some kind of moth.
Which I discovered, when I got home and looked it up, was a Gypsy moth. And, from the size of it, not just any old Gypsy moth caterpillar but a female.
Although winged, female Gypsy moths are flightless and attract males from long distances through the emission of a potent pheromone. This meant that, when hatched, we could put the moth outside and watch male Gypsy moths congregate from miles around to our female. A fantastic nature-watching opportunity.
On the other hand…Gypsy moths are considered a pest, responsible for entire defoliation of some areas in the world, and many would say breeding of this species is not to be encouraged!
So a dilemma formed as we waited for our caterpillar to pupate.
She sat for several days in her cage, doing absolutely nothing. We thought she had died. Then, all of a sudden, on Tues 7th July, she finally pupated – into a crazily big chrysalis attached by a flimsy web to the side of the cage.
On Sunday 12th July, while the miracle of metamorphosis was slowly taking place in the inner darkness of the pupa, our vicar, Simon, spoke in an online service about this verse in 2 Corinthians 3:
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
He pointed out that the original (Greek) word for “transformed” is μεταμορφούμεθα. In other words, metamorphosed.
Contemplation on the divine, through worship, prayer, or meditation on the nature that’s all around us, catalyses our own transformation, or metamorphosis, step by step, instar by instar, into the people we were always destined to be. Reflecting the Spirit, who is Love.
Like the inner sanctum of the chrysalis where caterpillar cells miraculously rearrange into moth or butterfly, time spent in quiet contemplation, away from life’s bustle, is the secret place we desperately need for our own inner revolution and spiritual emergence.
On Weds 22nd July my daughter excitedly told me that the chrysalis had hatched. A fat-bodied, egg-laden female Gypsy moth, just as expected.
We enjoyed watching her wings gradually unfurl.
Our answer to the dilemma, in the end, was to place the moth outside for the first two nights, but still inside her cage, so we could watch the males swarm to her female fragrance, while not actually allowing mating to take place.
However, there was no swarm. In fact, not a single male Gypsy moth appeared, as far as we saw.
So, on the third night, when the pheromones are supposed to be starting to wear off, we placed our female Gypsy on a fence in the garden (which she promptly crawled underneath), taking the risk that she might mate and give rise to the defoliation of Hastings.
But, after a further two nights, now taking us into 27th July, still no male Gypsies to be seen.
Then….on the evening of 27th July, my daughter noticed something strange: a small brown mass just below the abdomen of our female Gypsy. An egg sac.
Now, at this point, I don’t know whether she’s had a male visitor in the night while we’ve all been sleeping. Or whether female Gypsy moths, who emerge already egg-laden, simply discharge their eggs anyway, fertilised or not.
So now we have a new dilemma – what to do with this mass of eggs, which carry the potential to perpetuate a beautiful species of moth, yet also to strip acres of trees…? Destroy them, just in case?
What would you do? Please feel free to reply in the Comments….