Mr. Worm

by Annie C. Beery | Mar 29, 2021 | 0 comments

Cecropia caterpillar
Cecropia caterpillar. Photo © Kcmatt/

The rains had been abundant, the heat even more so. Together, the two had made the hum of the lawn mower as familiar as the droning cicadas outside the window—and far more monotonous. Today’s monotony, however, was destined to be broken.

“Mom!” The door slammed. “Mom! There’s a huge worm out here on the lawn mower. You have to come see it!” Helen’s excitement was very visible and even more audible.

Only mildly interested, Mom followed, if only to pacify Helen. Her interest quickly changed to disgust when she saw the green monster on the mower. “That’s a tomato hornworm,” Mom informed the girls, “and you may as well kill it after you get done looking at it.”

“Please, may we put it in a jar to show to Dad?” pleaded Helen.

Mom was far more concerned about filling jars with catsup than caterpillars, but she agreed. After all, it was the biggest and most unusual tomato hornworm she had ever seen. A flicker of doubt crossed her mind….

“Put some tomato leaves in for him to eat, and you may keep him till Dad comes in,” said Mom, heading back to her catsup.

Half an hour later, the worm was safely in a jar with a bountiful array of fresh tomato leaves for an appetizer, but he didn’t seem hungry. The doubt grew.

By the next day, Mr. Worm had been moved to a bigger jar, but he still didn’t seem to have an appetite for tomato leaves. Granddad had come to help with hay, and he took a peek at the worm. “That’s not a tomato hornworm,” he said.

H-m-m-m-m…. By now the project was too interesting to just turn him loose, but neither did we want him to starve. Let’s see…Laura was mowing in the orchard right before she found him. Could that be a clue?

Helen dashed off to the orchard and soon returned with a smorgasbord of leaves—apple, cherry, peach, pear. Eureka! We’d found the answer! Mr. Worm fell in on an apple leaf like he hadn’t eaten for two days, which was true. That erased the last shred of doubt—no tomato hornworm here. But what was he? If only we could lay our hands on the Golden Guide of Moths and Butterflies, but it remained tantalizingly hidden.

That evening the phone rang. “Your caterpillar is a cecropia moth larva,” Granddad said. “I found it in a book we have here.”

So the mystery was solved, but the intrigue remained. We certainly couldn’t give him up now, so Mr. Worm was moved to a 3-gallon bucket, and Helen assumed the responsibility of providing fresh forage for him.

And what a hungry caterpillar he was! Munch, munch, munch. We could hear him crunching away as he swung his head from side to side, mowing off layers as he went. He also spent time resting on the underside of the stick leaned against the side of the bucket. Having observed various butterfly larvae, we supposed he was contemplating the next phase of his life and hoped we’d be around when he changed into a cocoon. Surprise number three awaited!

One evening a few days later as we peeked at him on our way to the dairy, he appeared to be nosing around, looking for something he had lost. An hour later, he had drug several apple leaves up onto the stick and fastened them in a sort of tent around himself. Over the next day or two, more leaves were woven fast, and much more silk was spun around the inside until we could no longer see him moving.

All tucked in for winter, he is awaiting that change that only an all-wise Creator will be able to make possible. This little miracle was the most fascinating nature experience our family had this summer. Now, what about next spring? Will we be able to see if and when he hatches? Only God knows.

Cecropia moth. Photo ©

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