For the seventh year, I hosted our annual Earth Day play date for our mommy group friends. As in past years, our Earth Day tradition included making dirt cups.
To keep it simple, we used small pudding pots, Oreos and gummy worms. After the food craft, we used our spoons as shovels and filled our pots with real dirt and wildflower seeds.
This year, Emmalynn brought along her bug catcher to the play date, which seemed like a good idea as there were all these furry caterpillars crawling about the park. When we went on our nature walk, she created a small caterpillar community inside her bug jar. Emmalynn was so proud of all the “pets” that she collected and she couldn’t wait to take them home to feed them and watch them grow into butterflies.
She collected more caterpillars at the tower and the pier, but I was too busy noticing the effects of this winter’s rainy season which had gradually grown a lake once again at our favorite park and I began reminiscing of walks along the pier when the water sat at the shore nearly submerging the dock.
At the end of the day, we pack up our pots of sowed seeds and Emmalynn’s pets. Unfortunately, on the way home, she opened her bug jar and some escaped. Thankfully, we hadn’t left the park so I calmly pulled the car over to save a dozen creepy, furry caterpillars crawling around in my mini-van surprisingly without skeeving or hurling.
But, I missed one. One creepy, pissed off grouchy caterpillar slinked across Emmalynn’s car seat. Emmalynn assured me that it was o.k. because she could simply let it crawl around on her arm until we got home.
However, once we were on the highway, it “stung” and she started screaming. Frantically, I pulled over and flicked the little furry bastard pet pest off of her into the grassy shoulder along the highway.
Since Emmalynn is highly allergic to bees and wasps, I wasn’t sure how her little system would handle a caterpillar “sting”. Having grown up in Florida, I know that there are certain breeds of caterpillars that are poisonous and hoped that these vile creatures were not one of them. I nervously watched the red bump for signs of swelling and anaphylactic shock. At the first sign of a reaction, I was prepared to administer her EpiPen. As we waited Emmalynn said in her saddest voice, “We can let that one go, Mommy. He’s mean and not as nice as the other caterpillars.”
After a few minutes, the swelling went down and there was no need to administer the Epi. When we continued our journey home, I explained to Emmalynn how some small animals and bugs use stings and sprays, such as a porcupine, a skunk or an octopus, to protect themselves from larger animals that want to eat them.
“But, I didn’t want to eat him, Mommy.”
Once we returned back home, I searched the Internet for Emmalynn’s pests pets, which are called White Tussock Moths. Moths. Oh for the love of Mother Nature. They’re moths. Gross. And they have urticating hairs (barbed hairs like tarantulas – double gross) which can cause an irritation and a reaction on the skin. Really?! No kidding.
During my caterpillar research, I also learned that White Tussock Moths feed on oak leaves (not sugar water like butterflies). I used this newly acquired knowledge to persuade Emmalynn to release her pests pets back into the world. She could watch them feed on the oak trees in our yard. Yay. Hooray for ugly moths swarming our garage lights like…well like a moth to a flame.
Besides a lesson in conservation this Earth Day, Emmalynn learned a valuable lesson in insect defense mechanisms. Although Miss Spider has been saying it for years, Emmalynn understands firsthand why we need to be good to bugs.