Metamorphosis Meditation

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.

Gypsy larva
Just a poor phone pic (unusually, I didn’t have my camera with me!)

“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.

All scrunched-up like a newborn babe

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….





Neighbour Nature

Last week, on 16th July, I came across this rather wonderful, large, hairy caterpillar under the lip of our next door neighbour’s gatepost.

The few strands of thread it had woven across itself were the first scant (but obvious) signs that it was starting to pupate.

16th July

Aha, I thought – a blog opportunity! I’ll monitor the caterpillar’s progress and post photos of its pupation at different stages and, if possible, its eventual emergence as an adult moth.

After a bit of research in my moth book (and of course Google!), I thought it might be a Buff Ermine caterpillar, but I’m still not that sure.* It seems too big for such a small moth, and Buff Ermine are meant to pupate in leaf debris, not on walls or…gateposts.

17th July

Anyway, after the first two days (as per photos above), the caterpillar just lay there – motionless – a slightly shrivelled version of its previous self.

For nearly 3 whole days.

During that period, as time went on, I became increasingly convinced it was dead. That metamorphosis just hadn’t worked out for this unlucky larva.

So I stopped taking photos.

This isn’t going to make much of a blog after all, I concluded.

Each day I checked on the apparently deceased caterpillar.

Then, on 20th July, lo and behold, in place of the caterpillar lay this perfectly formed chrysalis, with the discarded larval skin to the side.

20th July: pupa and discarded skin

How did that happen? I mean, literally, how and when did that happen?

Clearly when I wasn’t looking.

What looked like death, or dying, was simply masking an incredible, internal transformation. Beneath its skin, the caterpillar’s cells had been miraculously rearranging themselves before finally shaking off its mantle to reveal the pupa’s hard shell.

What looks or feels like death, or dying, may simply be shrouding a process of internal transformation. Or reformation.

Have you ever experienced some heart-wrenching or dis-heartening episode in your life that feels like death, only to realise afterwards that this was the thing that ultimately brought you into a new kind of life? That actually awakened your heart.

Or consciously thrown off a habit – a deliberate act of loss that feels like grieving for an old friend – only to find that you gained so much more than you lost?

Death is seldom, if ever, the end.

Nature teaches this time after time, as I reflected in my attempt at poetry, Twist of Fate, inspired by a fallen tree trunk that had burst into life.

As an aspiring contemplative with an ambivalent relationship with my evangelical past, my understanding of death is, like the nature that I record in word and picture, still evolving.

Is death really an enemy that’s been destroyed by a Saviour?

Or did Jesus come to transform our understanding of and relationship with death, so we can accept and even embrace it as an integral part of creation’s design?

To awaken us to the reality of hope and life beyond dying, which nature had been teaching us all along, if only we had eyes to see.

Perhaps, as one spiritual writer has said, we shouldn’t really have been surprised at Jesus’ resurrection.

Just as I shouldn’t have been surprised at the sudden appearance of the chrysalis after 3 days.

After all, it’s not the first time that life has re-emerged after 3 days!


(*If I manage to catch sight of the moth hatching in a few months’ time, I’ll update this post, and should then have more definite identification.)