Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Tiniest Pet on the Planet - A Story of Sacrifice and Survival

My pet is fuzzy and cute and less than an eighth-of-an-inch long. You could fit him on the tip of your fingernail. He's an Orange Dog caterpillar who lives in the Meyer Lemon Tree in my backyard and one day he will turn into a beautiful Giant Swallowtail Butterfly. The story about how he came to my tree is both tragic and inspiring.

One day I saw a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly float past my window. I went outside and observed it alighting on the leaves of the lemon tree. After several minutes it stopped on one leaf for a few seconds and suddenly plummeted to the ground. A lizard lurking in the tree apparently thought it saw lunch and delivered what would be a fatal blow to the butterfly. The swallowtail lay helpless on the ground, frantically flapping its exquisite wings patterned with brilliant lemon-yellow, blue, red, and black colors. On the leaf where it had fallen from was a tiny orange egg!

I tried to nurse the swallowtail to health but in a few days it passed away. In creating life, this lovely butterfly lost her own, making the ultimate sacrifice. In her honor I put her in my freezer so that she will be preserved for eternity.

For five days I observed the egg. Despite a tropical storm, it remained stuck to the leaf of my lemon tree. On the sixth day, I discovered the Orange Dog caterpillar on the leaf. It apparently had just emerged because part of the egg was still on the leaf. I took several photos and when I returned a few hours later, it had moved on. If he survives, he will live in that tree, eating the citrus leaves until it forms a crysalis to prepare for metamorphosis.

One day soon my tiny friend won't be so tiny anymore. He'll grow up to be a beautiful butterfly and float away into the great wide world.

Orange Dog caterpillar

Orange Dog caterpillar

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly egg moments after it was laid.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly after it was bitten by a lizard.