Caterpillar Season V: It's not always Mother's fault

Although heavily laden with the usual maternal guilt when she went too early to her reward at age 62, my mother had little to do with my caterpillar habit. True, she went out and bought some fine netting to make butterfly nets for my brothers and I; but the whole thing was beyond her control by that point. I suppose she could have been more censorious about certain aspects of our bug collecting; but she just wasn't that sort. Rather, she made us fine nets when the store-boughten ones quickly fell apart when deployed in the real world of thorny shrubery.

It was my brother David who started it all. As he was four years older, I don't recall--never knew--what started him on this path. What I do remember is the case my father made: about 2 x 3 feet, cork lined, glass covered; and replete with the special thin pins needed. Brother has an unusual orderly mind; so the insecta were displayed by class groups after being pinned and dried in balsa boards, and not cased until getting each a small tag with the appropriate facts. Years later, it paid off in invertebrate zoology when already knew my Orders.

Our text was the magisterial " Golden Book" editions covering respectively Butterflies, Moths and Insects(Reptiles and Amphibia, Birds, Rocks and Seashells are another story...). In my life since I've not seen their equal for succinct presentation of the essential in the accessible. Like many of my age, I see the computer as accelerating our downward spiral into confused prolixity in the last decades; a trend that can only lead to chaos; thank providence that Herbert Zim is not here to see it... My brother set about writing his own insect book, and I emulated him fitfully-- hampered a bit by not being able to read or write. Sorry to say, I don't know how far he got; but it would be no surprise if he's still got it.

What I brought to the enterprise was a certain ruthlessness and persistence in the hunt. I suspect that these qualities are not taught or learned; only unleashed in the propitious circumstances. In this area, I was an able colleague. One of our many stops was a vacant lot on Melrose Avenue, where wild anise grew. On this tender and lacy species, we'd inspect each plant for the tiger-stripped larvae of the Anise swallowtail. In season, we often found our lawful prey. Being boys, we'd not resist the temptation to repeatedly induce their protective display of their scent horns: each time with an reinforcing whiff of licorice.

Sorry to say, it's vastly easier to kill and mount a butterfly than raise a caterpillar through metamorphosis. I suppose I should have given that part up as a dead loss then, and let the statute of limitations run out on such boyish crimes. Now, it's far too late, and I might as well get the joy of it before facing my accounts.

Posted by icosahedron icosahedron, May 23, 2011 14:58

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