Around Memorial Day 2011, my brother and I were weeding in the garden when we noticed a female Black Swallowtail flitting about the carrot beds. Every little while it would pick a leaf, arch its back, and lay a single egg on the underside of the leaf. As quickly as it laid the egg, we snipped off the leaf and set it aside. Pretty soon we had eleven individual jars set up, each with a tiny white egg.
Within five days, all but one of the eggs had hatched. We didn’t notice the first one in time, so it died for lack of food, and the eleventh never did hatch at all, so we were down to nine. The tiny eighth-inch-long caterpillars bored a hole in the egg, crawled out, turned around, and ate their egg for a first meal, so there was no trace of their former life.
The little creatures grew quickly! They ate, and ate, and ate some more. And the more they ate, the more they grew. Like all caterpillars, Black Swallowtails’ food source is limited; pretty much the only foods they can eat are plants within the carrot family (which includes Queen Anne’s lace and celery).
Probably at least once a day, each caterpillar would shed its skin to reveal a new layer underneath. Sometimes the new skin didn’t look much different; other times they went through major transformations – from looking like a black-and-white bird dropping, to having stripes on a whitish color, to the final stage of bright green with black stripes and yellow spots.
Within a week, we found that the caterpillars had discovered their hidden means of defense: slimy orange “horns” that could shoot out of their heads and leave a nasty stench on your fingers.
Because we had these caterpillars from the time they were born, they were kept safe from many of the dangers they would have experienced outside. The great outdoors may have held more to explore, but it also would have exposed them to the danger of death – from within and without. Several of the other caterpillar varieties we kept during those summers turned out to be infested by parasites that ate them from the inside out. And I’m sure the birds found our garden to be full of plump, tasty caterpillars for lunch.
After about two weeks, our nine caterpillar friends reached the last stage of their larvae lives: it was time to make their chrysalises. Each individual chose a favorite stick or stem, attached itself with silk thread of its own creation, and positioned itself in a slight bow. Eventually the skin on its back would split apart, revealing a bright green chrysalis underneath, which would usually darken into a brown color later. The caterpillar (chrysalis?) would thrash about until the last of its skin was fallen off, and then relax into the position where it would remain until ready to emerge.
Depending on the time of the year, some would overwinter. Others would only be in the chrysalis for several days. This particular brood hatched within less than two weeks. Once again, the back would split apart – but this was the fastest and most obvious transformation. Within a couple seconds the chrysalis would be open and the butterfly would emerge, dry its crumpled wings, and take to the air.
So why am I posting about this on a devotional-themed blog?
Well, because I was thinking about the life-cycle of a caterpillar, and I just saw so much rich meaning in it.
You could almost re-write the Parable of the sower:
Behold, a mother butterfly went out to lay her eggs. Some eggs fell off their leaves and were trampled or eaten; some never hatched at all. Some hatched, but they were weak or lost their food source, and didn’t live long. Some were overtaken by parasites that ate them from within and cut their life short. Some were found by birds or other predators that made them into a meal. But others thrived, growing fat on their food source and avoiding predators, until it was time to shed their skin and wait quietly in their chrysalis. Then, when the time was right, they left their chrysalises and entered the world anew as butterflies.
Therefore hear the parable of the caterpillars: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, or chooses to reject it, then he never truly experiences life. This is the caterpillar that doesn’t live to leave the egg. But those that hatched and died of weakness or starvation – these are those who hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, but they do not grow in Christ, and so their spiritual life is snuffed out before it scarcely begins. Now the caterpillars who are eaten by predators from within or without are those who hear the word, but the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, or the pressure and philosophies of the world take over, and they become unfruitful. But the caterpillars who thrived are the ones who grow in Christ, repent of their sins and shed those old habits over the course of their lives, with some transformations being more apparent than others. Then, when the time is right, they shed their skin – their tent – their earthly life – and wait (some longer than others) for the day when their Savior will truly make all things new, exchanging their mortal, corruptible bodies for immortal, incorruptible ones.
There are even more analogies I could come up with – see if you can pick on them on what I wrote previously. 🙂
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
2 Cor. 5:17, NKJV
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
1 Cor. 15:53-54
So…. which caterpillar are you?