There’s nothing like a caterpillar to bring out my inner child. Perhaps it is because they go into the world so undefended, munching their way through everything. I was always hungry as a child, and having watched my son being perpetually on a quest for food, I think there might be reasons for children to identify with caterpillars.
At the moment, the stripy caterpillars are eating their way through the ragwort on the towpath. Black and yellow, they arrive tiny from their eggs and simply get on with eating and growing until they become quite large stripy caterpillars. Later, they will be cinnabar moths. What happens in between is both exciting and unsettling.
When a caterpillar pupates, the dormant butterfly or moth cells eat the caterpillar cells.
I find this really interesting, because the transformation into a butterfly is so often used as a metaphor for things human. Is our fear of death nothing more than the caterpillar’s silly fear of turning into a butterfly? Is the big scary thing we have to face just an opportunity to grow our wings, assume our adult form and fly free?
Knowing what happens, I can only hope my stripy friends have no idea what they’re doing. I hope they have no means of consciously experiencing the takeover of a new form. I wonder how this kind of thing ever evolved – not because I see it as a sign of ‘intelligent design’ but because I’d love to know the mechanics. You have to wonder about the kind of people who want to attribute deliberate planning of this sort of thing to their divine beings.