Wednesday, September 10, 2008

float like a butterfly, sting like a caterpillar



Mexico appears to be one continual spinning metaphor.


When I was 4 or so, we lived in southern Oregon. Every day was Columbus Day -- with new worlds to be discovered, explored, and exploited. Our house bordered open tracts of land ruled by wild horses. And steps away from my bedroom -- a stream filled with squirming and fascinating creatures. It was a great time and place to be a boy.


Of course, there were wooly bear caterpillars. In the fall, I would track them down near the stream and collect them. They were "my friends," I would pathetically tell my mother as she scooped them out of my pockets.


I learned that no matter how threatening nature appeared, it was a place of harmony -- a veritable Rousseauean Eden. A half century later, I still harbor that dream -- even though I have had enough adult experiences to realize that nature can be a bit more prickly than that 4-year old believed.


Last night a fellow blogger, who lives in Mexico, told me she had been gardening and had suffered a sting resulting in the worst pain she had experienced in her life. Reading the description of what she went through made me almost queasy. Her analysis: "Is this what being bit by a cobra feels like?"


The culprit? One of these beauties. Both perps were arrested at the scene.


The first suspect is the caterpillar of the Io moth. To my wooly bear-educated eye, this caterpillar looks no more dangerous than any other undulating work of nature. But those pretty spikes contain a very nasty venom.




I suspect some people would never intentionally touch an Io moth caterpillar because the spines look dangerous.


But take a look at suspect #2. Its nickname is the puss caterpillar because it looks slightly like a Persian kitten. (So say the books. To me, it looks like something a kitten hacked up.)


Some people are compelled to reach out and stroke this furry little critter -- to their cost. There be barbs in that coat: "known to produce hemorrhagic lesions with significant swelling, swollen lymph nodes, and shock with low blood pressure." Another nickname: stinging asp.




The moral? My correspondent reminded me that I have often stated a naive distrust of walls. Boundaries exist in cultures for reasons.


Another moral. Not every caterpillar should be left in your pocket to be discovered by your mother.

4 comments:

glorv1 said...

Oh, thank you for the information. I had no idea they could be venemous and prickly. I will be more careful in the garden, should I run across one of those critters.

Steve Cotton said...

Gloria -- I just noticed that I did not point out that the sting incident occurred in Mexico -- even though both caterpillars can be found west of the Rockies in the States. You should be safe -- from these two -- in California. I updated the post.

Michael Warshauer said...

Years ago while attending a Spanish language school in Cuernavaca, I went up the outdoor stairs from the jardín to the terraza. The moment I grabbed the pasamano, I felt a tremendous jolt, like an electric shock, from my right hand to my shoulder.

An instructor treated it with half a lime (from a tree in the jardín) and I took some antihistamines and Vitamin C, which I then carried around in a brief case. I recovered in about an hour. The instructor told me I was lucky the gusanito had not stung my face.

Steve Cotton said...

Michael -- Now, there is a combination: green caterpillars and lime. I wonder if half a lime could solve my love life issues.