Holiday Meadow  by Edith M. Patch

The Adventures of a Meadow Caterpillar

C TENUCHA had her first adventure while she was young. She was, indeed, so very young that she was still living inside an eggshell when things began to happen.

The eggshell which was her first home was shaped like a ball, except that one side was flat. The flat side was fastened to a blade of grass. The egg was so small that it would have taken more than twenty like it, resting side by side, to make a row an inch long. There were nearly two hundred such eggs in rows on grass blades near the egg in which she lived. Inside of each of these was a brother or sister of Ctenucha's.

After she had lived for ten days in the egg, it changed color. It had been yellow at first, as yellow as honey. On the eleventh day the egg looked gray. The shell itself was not gray. It was really as white as a pearl. It looked gray because something inside had turned dark and was pressing against the shell. The dark thing was Ctenucha's head.

The next day the dark head showed even more plainly through the thin shell. It was about this time that little Ctenucha began to move her jaws in a hungry way. It is not unpleasant to be hungry if there is good food to eat, and the tiny caterpillar liked eggshell. She scraped and scraped against the shell for hours until at last she made a hole in it. There was no reason then why she could not have crept through the hole, except that she was so hungry for eggshell that she ate her way out instead. After a time she was no longer inside the shell but most of the shell was inside of her.

That was Ctenucha's first adventure, eating her way into a world of sunshine. You need not be surprised to learn that a creature who began life so strangely should do other queer things from time to time. That is, they seem odd to us, though all Ctenucha really did was to live a natural caterpillar life. If you wish to see for yourself how she acted, you need only find an egg like hers and watch from the time the baby insect eats its eggshell until its last adventure.

Ctenucha had sixteen feet. Three pairs of them were on jointed legs near her head. These she did not use much in walking. She held them somewhat like hands at each side of her food when she was eating. She crept with the other five pairs, soft clinging feet with which she could hold firmly to the thin edge of grass.

She did not need to learn to creep, and it was well for her that she could travel at once; for, soon after she had finished her breakfast of eggshell, she was ready for dinner. Perhaps it was the smell of growing grass that made her hungry, for as soon as she came to a tender leaf she began to nibble it. From the moment she first tasted grass she seemed contented with that sort of food; and, as long as she was a caterpillar, she sought no other kind. Her journeys to the market took her no farther than from one grass plant to another; and some days she ate so steadily that it would be hard to tell when her breakfast ended and her supper began.

After eating busily for several days, she stopped to rest. She was forced to stop because she had grown so fast that her skin could not hold any more body. When she was in that sort of fix she pulled herself out of her skin, but that took time.

She rested quietly until the tight skin ripped back of her head. Then she crept out of it, leaving the skin—old skull and all—lying on the grass. She did not need it any longer because a new coat of skin had grown to take its place. Now she could again eat grass until this new coat should in its turn become too tight and need to be discarded.

That is the way Ctenucha passed the days until fall—eating, growing, resting, molting. Every time she molted she had a different-looking skin. She changed her coat for a bigger and prettier one each time. Her first little coat had been pale yellow with tiny black dots from each of which grew a few dark hairs. Each new coat had more hairs than the one before. The garment she was wearing when cold weather came had a row of black hairs down the middle of the back and a stripe of yellow hairs on each side.

Ctenucha's home was in Holiday Meadow where, during the cold winter, the grass stops growing and the ground is covered deeply with snow.

Some animals in the north must live all winter without eating. Bats and bears and woodchucks and skunks and frogs and earthworms and many insects can do this. All these animals that live without eating during the winter manage in much the same way. Each seeks a comfortable place and goes to sleep. That is what Ctenucha did. She slept while the weather was cold.

Her winter adventure was a nap. But her sleep was not so sound as that of some of the other dozing animals. When the weather was warm enough, as perhaps during a January thaw, she wakened and went for a walk. Dick and Anne, who were tramping across the fields on their snowshoes one mild day, saw a black-and-yellow creature hurrying over the snow and they called it a "winter caterpillar" and wondered where it was going.

After fasting all winter, Ctenucha was very hungry in the spring. As soon as the grass began to grow she ate greedily. The coat in which she had slept was no longer pretty. The yellow hairs had faded until they were the color of old straw, and the black tufts had become dingy. She could not change this garment for a better one until she was plump enough to molt; but by the middle of April she had eaten so many tender grass blades that she could not swallow another mouthful. It was time for her spring molting to take place at last.

She then crept to a bit of stubble and spun a thin mat of silk upon a dry stem. She tangled the hooks of her ten creeping feet among the threads of the mat and rested quietly with her head down. After a while she pulled her head out of her old skull and she then looked as if she had a swollen neck. The new head inside the old skin pressed so hard that at last the skin tore at the "collar" and Ctenucha's head popped through the hole. She pulled her six jointed legs and her ten creeping feet out of their old stockings and crept forth like a new creature. She left her old coat lying on her molting-mat on the stubble and went in search of fresh grass. She was very hungry again.

The winter coat she had just molted had, as you may remember, a row of black tufts down the middle of the back. There were more than one thousand caterpillars of the same kind in the meadow where she lived; and every one of them wore a winter coat like hers, with black tufts in a row down the back. All these thousand and more caterpillars molted their winter coats in the spring, after they had eaten grass for some time. Some of the new spring coats had black tufts on the back and some of them had white tufts. Of course the caterpillars could not choose which color of tufts they would have. Each one had the kind that grew, just as you have dark hair or light hair without choosing.


Patterns in the coats worn by Ctenucha caterpillars.

Ctenucha's spring coat had a row of white tufts bordered on each side by a soft yellow stripe. Her ten creeping feet were red—not bright red but a soft dark shade. Her head was the same pretty color as her feet, except her face which was black. If, some spring day, you chance to meet a creature like her, with a black and red skin and a yellow and white coat, you will doubtless be glad to see so good-looking a caterpillar.

Fine as the new spring coat was it did not last long; for one day Ctenucha pulled the hair out of it and then she was as queer as a hen, without any feathers.

The day she pulled out her hair was the time of one of her greatest adventures—the day she made her cocoon. I like to remember that day because she wove a basket-like cocoon without making one mistake; although she had never made a cocoon before and there was no one to show her how to do it.

After Ctenucha had taken the last bite of grass she was ever to swallow, she sought a piece of bent stubble and crept to the under side of it. Clinging to the dry stem, back down, she began to spin. Perhaps you know that a caterpillar has silk glands in its body where liquid silk is made. When a caterpillar is ready to spin, the silk drools out of an opening through the lower lip and, when it touches the air, it is stiffened into thread.

Ctenucha had spun silk before. She had made a mat of silk in which to tangle the hooks of her creeping feet while she molted. The molting-mat held her old skin steady while she pulled herself out of it. But to make silk enough to cover her whole body was quite a different task.

First she spun a strip of silk about as long as her body upon the lower edge of the stubble. She clung to this with her creeping feet while she made the rest of her cocoon. When she was spinning she used her jointed feet somewhat like little hands to guide the thread and to help shape the cocoon. She wove the edges down at each side and each end until they nearly met at the middle and then she joined the edges.

Some caterpillars weave their cocoons entirely of silk, but Ctenucha did not. She used hair also, making a kind of haircloth cocoon; and the hair that she used she pulled out of her coat. First she would add some silk to the edge of the cocoon, and then she would reach her head back and grasp a mouthful of hair close to her skin and pull it out. It came out quickly as if it were loose. I do not think the jerk hurt her. She would tuck the mouthful of hair endwise into the silk she had just spun. Then she would spin more silk in which to tuck the next mouthful of hair which she pulled out.


Haircloth cocoons woven by Ctenucha caterpillars, with a pupa, which is the stage between a caterpillar and a moth.

She worked without wasting any time or any motions. When she was spinning the left side of the cocoon, she reached to her left side and pulled hair from that part of her coat. By pulling hair that was nearest the place she was spinning, she saved time and strength. She did not weave in a nervous quick way. She wove slowly and steadily and she did not stop to rest until the cocoon was quite completed.

By the time Ctenucha's cocoon was finished, her body was stripped of its hair. She had just enough hair for the cloth of her cocoon. Do you not think that it is wonderful that she could weave that perfect little basket-like cocoon the first time she tried? No one to show her how! Not stopping until it was finished! Measuring out her hair so that there was enough for the cocoon and none to spare!

It seems fitting that she should have a marvelous cocoon, for remarkable events occurred inside it. In fact, two of her best adventures took place in her cocoon.

When her weaving was over, Ctenucha lay quivering with the changes that were taking place in her body. After a day or so of waiting, her caterpillar skin ripped down the middle of the back far enough so that she could squirm out of it. She looked queer while she was doing this, for she was not a caterpillar any longer. She was, instead, a soft wriggling object with six legs (much longer than any she had had before), four wing-pads that flopped a very little, a long straight quivering tongue, and two feelers. Legs, wing-pads, tongue, and feelers all moved feebly for a minute or two and then they became glued fast to her body by the fluid that had helped loosen the old caterpillar skin. When the air inside the cocoon touched this fluid it hardened it into a sort of glue.

Ctenucha was a caterpillar no longer. She had changed into a pupa. When she first became a pupa, she was bright red with a row of cream-colored spots down her back, but she soon turned dark brown all over and was so shiny that she looked as if she were covered with varnish. At the tail-end of the pupa there were some tiny hooks that caught into the silk of the cocoon.

First she had been an egg, and then a caterpillar, and then a pupa. What next would she be? Next she would be a moth; but not until she had lain waiting, as a pupa, for sixteen days. During that time her little body underwent its last great change.

Then the shiny brown skin cracked open and she came out of it. The hooks on the end of the pupa-case held it steady while she pulled herself free. She pushed her way through one end of the cocoon and waited for her wings to expand and grow strong.

Ctenucha was at last a moth, a full-grown insect with wings; and the adventures that lay ahead of her were quite different from those of her caterpillar days.


Full‑Grown Ctenuchas

I cannot tell you whether she had a better time after she came out of the cocoon than she did before she wove herself inside of it. I can only say that she had acted as if she were a contented caterpillar while she was nibbling her first breakfast of eggshell, while she was munching her many dinners of grass, and while she was weaving her wonderful cocoon. After she became a moth, she still acted as if it gave her pleasure to be alive and in motion.

Most kinds of moths fly only at night, but Ctenucha flew during the sunlight hours. She visited clover, the spreading dogbane, meadow sweet, viburnum, and other flowers. She carried her long tongue coiled tight like a watch-spring while she was flying; but when she reached a flower, she straightened her tongue and put the tip of it into the tube of the blossom and sipped the sweet nectar she found there.


Ctenucha visited the flowers for nectar.

She drank dew, too, feeling along the grass blades with the tip of her tongue and sipping the dewdrops as she did nectar. Sometimes she went to bushes and trees where there were colonies of aphids and drank the sweet liquid, called honeydew, that aphids drop from their bodies.

It was not easy to see her colors when she was flying, but while she was feeding at a flower it was possible to look closely. Her fore wings were queerly colored. Sometimes they looked rusty black or brown and sometimes bronze or purple or green. Like "changeable silk" their colors were different when they were turned in different ways toward the light. Her hind wings were bluish black or blackish blue. All four of her wings were narrowly edged with white. Her body was glistening peacock blue with a dash of bright orange just behind her head. Her head was orange-colored, too, except the middle of her face which was blue, and her feelers and mouth parts which were black.

However pleasant she may have found the flowers, she did not spend all her time among them. She had another adventure of much importance. There were her eggs, nearly two hundred of them, that needed to be glued to grass blades. Even the sweet taste of nectar or honeydew did not tempt her to neglect her eggs. She put them in rows, close together, sometimes more than twenty on a single leaf of grass.


Ctenucha's Eggs. Those on the right, greatly enlarged.

Like the one in which she herself had started life, they were yellow as honey and round except for one flat side. And they were tiny, but not too tiny to hold the promise of many adventures; for inside of each egg was a speck of life that could grow to be a caterpillar, then a pupa, and then a moth.

* * * * *

All the time that I have been telling you about the adventures of Ctenucha, I have been wishing that you might have an adventure of your own. I have been wishing that you might see an egg like one of Ctenucha's hatch; or notice such a caterpillar at molting time; or watch one weave a cocoon; or find a moth whose body is glistening blue trimmed with bright orange, and whose wings have queer changing colors. Perhaps my wish for your adventure may come true. Wishes often do.