This story began when I was a child, and I first discovered a black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar in my mother's herb garden. It was the kind of finding that sparks awe in anyone intrigued by nature's colors, creatures and possibilities. My grandfather told me the many-splendored worms would turn into beautiful butterflies. And when a few weeks passed, I was delighted to see the creatures fluttering through the flower garden.
As an adult, I've maintained an affinity for this member of the order lepidoptera. In fact, when I first planted my own herb garden, I decided I'd let the dill go to seed. Each year wanted more and more of the tall, spindly herb to grace my bed. This would leave enough for my potato salad and for the caterpillars. And each spring I have been rewarded by the appearance of the caterpillars, each year in increasing numbers.
But this spring we decided to take things up one notch. Our two year old had caught the black swallowtail bug. Each morning, he would hustle out to the dill to see how "his" caterpillars were doing. After some discussion, we decided we would bring one caterpillar into our home, so that he could watch its growth and metamorphosis up close.
It seemed to be going swimmingly. Twice each day I would bring the caterpillar new dill, and each day he would plow through my offerings, and leave me an ample harvest of caterpillar poo to throw back into the garden. He grew and he grew. And then, one morning he appeared paralyzed on a stick in his home. A day later, he'd become enveloped in his chrysalis. And the wait for the butterfly began.
To make the wait more of an event, I placed the chrysalis on a skewer placed in a vase atop a bookshelf in our living room. There, I figured, we'd be sure to see it when it hatched. We'd also be right by the side door, to let the magnificent creature go free. So, each day, several times a day, we would check on its progress.
Then, last evening, I noticed a hole in the side of the chrysalis. But there was no butterfly in sight.
"Has anyone seen a butterfly?" I called. The search was on. Almost immediately, Callawassie, our cat, was indicted. But, not wanting to believe that she could have sacked the butterfly without our knowing, we continued to search. We looked in all of our windows, figuring it might go for light. I shook the curtains and peered behind the blinds. Then, above a living room window, I saw it crawling along the wall.
But it wasn't a butterfly. It was a wasp. It was a long, thin, bright red wasp, with a set of jet black wings that served notice that it was one badass creation. I went into the kitchen and gathered a Solo cup and a piece of paper. I had to capture the creature. I had to get it the hell out of my house. The capture went well, but upon releasing the scourge, it flew directly at me. I screamed like girl at a Jonas Brothers show, then I leaped and spun so that the beast narrowly missed me. Bridget began to chuckle at my reaction, but then it landed on her leg, and she joined in my terror. After a few fleeting moments, the wasp, who I'm now sure was just thanking us for our hospitality, took flight into the Midwestern evening. We quickly lost sight of it.
So, how is it that an ity-bitty-caterpillar grows into a big fat caterpillar, builds itself a home called a chrysalis, and emerges three weeks later a terrifying wasp? Well, that's nature. You see, our beloved caterpillar was eaten, mid-metamorphosis, by the spawn of a wasp who'd laid an egg on it, before we'd hustled it into our home for protection. As I was bringing dill to my future butterfly, it was likely being consumed from the inside out by the larval wasp. When it disappeared into it's shell that process just moved forward, and yesterday was the day, that Pop! Out came the scary, scary wasp.
Not exactly the way Eric Carle wrote it, but Nature will do what Nature will do.