27th March – In the course of our morning foray into my mother-in-law’s back garden for chicken inspection purposes, we happened upon a brightly coloured tiger butterfly resting on a leaf. We approached to get a better look, expecting her to fly away as soon as she saw us coming, but she remained resolutely where she was.
As we watched in awe, she started meticulously laying eggs in a tiny regiment on the topside of the leaf, each standing to attention like Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army. I don’t know whether her instinct would have anchored her there if we had attempted to harm her or the eggs, but she didn’t move even when we approached, only pausing briefly when I took a photo and then resuming her painstakingly slow and perfect work (link to video).
We had another read of Eric Carle’s inimitable masterpiece (in board book form – thanks Grandad) to remind ourselves of what might happen to the eggs (although in my recounting the caterpillar is female because, quite frankly, who needs yet another children’s book with male protagonists?).
29th March – We missed a day’s egg inspection and rushed over to the highly favoured (and only) green plant in the back yard, where we were extremely pleased to see the tiny polished regiment still in perfect formation.
30th March – See entry above (featuring lower levels of apprehension on my part).
1st April – See entry above (with growing complacency on my part).
4th April – Kicking myself about the possibility that we might have missed some vital lifestages or metamorphosis itself, we dashed over to the plant and my heart sank as I saw giant sections missing from the leaf that the eggs had been so carefully entrusted to. Moments later my heart soared when I spotted the tiny translucent egg cases left discarded along the long ragged edge and, upon lifting the leaf, we discovered heaps of tiny voracious little caterpillars. Observing the natural world is an emotional roller-coaster.
8th April – These were very hungry caterpillars indeed and had now polished off a number of leaves and were, thankfully, heading upwards, out of the way of the ferocious dinosaur descendants, relentlessly prowling the earth below.
10th April – Hens are very canny birds and suspicions about our interest in the lone green plant in the back yard were clearly starting to form in their tiny minds.
11th April – The caterpillars must be eating their own bodyweight in leaves every day.
13th April – The caterpillars are living the dream. On the plus side, they have never read about Eric Carle’s eponymous hero so no requests for plums, strawberries and oranges, or slices of watermelon, Swiss cheese or chocolate cake have been made, which is something.
14th April – The caterpillars just follow their hearts.
15th April – They are all heart. The big white hen is all heart too.
17th April – I have allowed myself to be carried along on a wave of optimism about the beneficent nature of the animal world and am totally unprepared to find that the lone green plant is missing some key leaves. We hold a debrief about the possible fate of the caterpillars and I throw the big white hen under the bus with my photographic evidence of its presence at the scene of the crime before it became a crime scene.
My daughter rounds on the big white hen and follows it around, giving it a series of extremely stern lectures about not eating caterpillars. (By the time I managed to capture the lecture on video, she was merely going through the motions and the big white hen* had long ago lost any interest at all.)
*We later discovered that the big white hen was, in fact, a big white cockerel.
I also stumbled upon a pastoral scene later on in the week which enabled me to piece together the probable final moments of the tiny victims as a terrible re-enactment was performed before my very eyes…
RIP Very Hungry Caterpillars.