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Clara Dillingham Pierson


The Sad Story of the Hog Caterpillar

T HE grape-vines on the trellis were carefully pruned and tended, but that did not prevent a few Hog Caterpillars of the Vine from making their home upon them. There were a number of other Hog Caterpillars on the place, and all expected to be Hawk Moths when they grew up. Sometimes they thought and talked too much about this, and planned too far ahead. They might better have thought more about being the best kind of Caterpillars. For sometimes, when they were telling what great things they would do by-and-by, they forgot to do exactly as they should just then.

None of them knew when they got their name. Somebody who noticed their small heads and very smooth, fat, and puffy-looking bodies must have begun it. Perhaps, too, this person thought that the queer little things sticking upward and backward from the end of their bodies looked like the tail of a Hog. Those who lived on grape-vines were called Hog Caterpillars of the Vine. Then, when their friends spoke of them, people knew at once to what family they belonged.

If you were to look closely at a Hog Caterpillar of the Vine, you would think him handsome. He has seven reddish spots along the middle of his back, every one set in a patch of pale yellow. On each side you would see a long green stripe with white edges, and below this you would find seven slanting white ones.

When these Hog Caterpillars of the Vine were hatched, they were very, very tiny, and had to feed and rest and change their skins over and over, just as all Caterpillars must. Of course when they changed their skins, they had nobody to help them, because their parents were Hawk Moths and never bothered with the care of children. They believed that Caterpillars should help themselves. "They will have plenty of time to play when they are grown up," the Hawk Moths said, "and it is much better for children to have to change their own skins. If they do that, they will be more careful of their new ones, when they get them."

There is a great deal in the way a child is brought up, and no Caterpillar ever says, "I can't do this;" or, "Somebody must help me get off my old skin, so there!" No indeed! Caterpillars help themselves and make no fuss at all.

This is not saying that they have no faults. It just means that this fault was not one of theirs. Perhaps their worst fault was bragging about what they were going to do. It was either that or carelessness, and every now and then some one of them would be dreadfully punished. With so many hungry birds around, Caterpillars should be very careful. One of those on the grape-vines laughed at a Robin for being afraid of Silvertip. Of course he did not expect to be heard by any except his relatives. He was, though, and as soon as Silvertip had walked off, the Robin came back and hunted for him and ate him. He was very, very sorry for his rudeness, and tried to wriggle out of it, when the Robin spoke about it, but he should have remembered sooner. "I laughed before I thought," he said. "I'll never do it again. Never! Never!"

"Say nothing more about it," answered the Robin, who was noted for his polite ways; "I am very sure you won't." Then he swallowed him while he was talking. The Catbird said that the Robin took in all that the Caterpillar was saying, but the other birds didn't quite understand what he meant by that.

The oldest Hog Caterpillar of the Vine was always reckless. He would feed in plain sight in the sunshine if he wanted to, and he was forever telling what a fine Hawk Moth he expected to be. "If a bird comes after me," he would say, "I will just let go of the leaf and fall to the ground in a little round bunch. I can lie so quietly in the grass that he will never see me." He looked so haughty when saying this that none of his relatives dared to say a word, although a pretty young one wept quietly under her grape-leaf. He had been very attentive to her, and she wanted to marry him after they had changed into Moths. Such plans, you know, might be sadly upset by a hungry and sharp-sighted bird.

Yet birds were not the only people to fear. The Ichneumon Wasps and their cousins the Braconids were always flying around and looking for fat and juicy Caterpillars, and many a promising young fellow had been pounced upon by them. They were so much smaller and more quiet than the birds that they were really much more to be feared. His friends and relatives used to tell the oldest Hog Caterpillar to keep hidden from them, but he paid no attention. "Do you suppose," said he, "that a fine fellow like me is going to sneak under leaves for a slender Ichneumon or a little Braconid? Not I!"

So it is not surprising that when a mother Braconid came along one day, looking for a good place to lay eggs, she saw him busily eating in the sunshine. He had just taken the sixth mouthful from an especially fine leaf when she alighted on him. "Don't move!" she said. "Your position is exactly right. Keep perfectly still and I shall soon be through."

The Hog Caterpillar of the Vine understood every word she said, but he moved as fast as he could. Unfortunately, you know, his legs were all on the under side of his body, and were so stubby that he could not reach up to push her away. He did rub up against a leaf and brush her off for a minute, but she was right back and talking to him again.

"You are very foolish to make such a fuss," she said. "You might better keep still and get it over. I have decided on you, and you can't help yourself. Now hold still!"

There was only one other thing left for the poor Hog Caterpillar of the Vine to do. He let go of the grape leaf and fell to the ground. He had hardly struck it, however, when the Braconid was on his back. "No more nonsense," said she sternly. "You really make me quite out of patience, and I shall not wait any longer. I want to get my eggs laid and have some time for play."

Then she ran her ovipositor, which is the tube through which insects lay their eggs, into his fat back and slipped an egg down through it. How it did hurt! The poor Hog Caterpillar of the Vine squirmed with pain, and all the Braconid said was: "It would be much easier for me if you would lie quietly. Still, I am used to working under difficulties. . . . You won't mind it so after a while." Then she drew out her ovipositor, stuck it into another place, and laid another egg.

Before she left him, the Braconid had laid thirty-five eggs in his body, and the Hog Caterpillar of the Vine was so tired with pain and anger that he could hardly move. Of the two, perhaps the anger tired him the more. He had time to do a great deal of thinking before he climbed onto the vine again. "I will be more careful after this," he said, "but I guess there isn't any need of telling the other fellows what has happened. None of them were around when that dreadful Braconid came."

When he was up on the vine again, one of his relatives said: "You look sick. What is the matter?" And he answered: "Oh, I am rather tired. Guess this skin is getting too tight."

The next day he felt quite well, but as time went on he grew worse and worse. He ate a great deal, yet he grew worse and worse. He ate a great deal, yet he did not grow as he should, and the other Hog Caterpillars of the Vine began to talk about it. The truth was, you know, that the Braconid's thirty-five eggs had all hatched, and her children were eating up the poor Hog Caterpillar of the Vine. They were fat little Worms then, and when they were old enough to spin cocoons, they cut thirty-five tiny doors in his skin and spun their cocoons on the outside.

Then all his relatives and friends knew what was the matter with him, for wherever he went he had to carry on his back and sides thirty-five beautiful little shining white cocoons. He did not think them beautiful, yet they were, and the Braconid mother looked at them with great pride as she flew past.

"I should like to see them cut off the tiny round lids of their cocoons," she said, "and fly away, but I suppose I shall not be around then. It is very hard not to have the pleasure of bringing up one's own children. Yet I suppose it is better for them, and one must not be selfish." She flew away with a very good, almost too good, look on her face.

The Hog Caterpillar of the Vine was so tired that he died—what there was left of him. Really the Braconid babies had eaten most of him before spinning their cocoons. The only truly happy people around were the Braconid children, who came out strong and active the next day.

This is all a very, very sad story. It is true, though, and it had to be written, because there may still be some Hog Caterpillars of the Vine, or perhaps some other people, who will not take advice about what they should do, and so they come to trouble.