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.


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.