Odius H. first came to see me on March 8th. This was six months after a major hurricane had passed through the forest. Many of my patients were still upset by the changes in their living conditions and other problems. I was quite busy at the time. I agreed to see Odius H. because I was … well, I was curious.
You see, Odius H. was a caterpillar. He was of a species of caterpillar known scientifically as Historis odius. Until this time, I had only counseled birds, frogs, and lizards. A caterpillar was, well, beneath me. It surprised me that this one approached me. I knew virtually nothing about caterpillars. I didn’t consider them as tasty food. In fact, I didn’t consider them at all.
- Odius H. resembled a worm. He was about 7.5 mm (2.75 inches) long, brown to tan in color, with yellow stripes across his body. His body was flat and divided into 13 segments. He had three pairs of legs toward the front of the body. Farther back, several small extensions looked like suckers. The small, square head had several eyes, two small antennae, and strong jaws. He called the jaws “mandibles.” Orange spines stuck up on his back and sides. Little horns on top of his head also ended in spines. In short, he was not a very attractive creature.
Habitat and Food
- Odius H. reported that his home was on the leaves of a tree known as Cecropia schreberiana. This was his habitat, the place where he lived. Known locally as Yagrumo, Cecropia is a common tree, almost a weed in some people’s minds. It grows rapidly in open, sunny areas of the forest, such as in the gaps you find after a hurricane.
- When he was hungry, Odius H. fed from the underside of the leaves of the same tree. He used his mandibles to chew. Of course, he ate a very tiny amount. Since he got his energy by eating other organisms, other living things, he was a consumer. To be more exact, he was an herbivore because the organisms he ate were plants. The word “herbivore” comes from the scientific word for plants, which is “herbs.”
- Odius H. said Cecropia was his host plant. It gave him both his home and his food. He was very dependent on this tree. He considered it necessary to his survival, a requirement for his life and the life of his fellow caterpillars.
The tree he inhabited was next to the tree where I have my office. That is why he knew of me.
- Odius H. said there were thousands of caterpillars like him in the forest. They all lived on the leaves of Cecropia trees. Historis odius caterpillars could be found wherever this tree was found. They were not found where this tree was not found. This was their niche, their position in the functioning of the forest. The sheer numbers of the population of Historis odius surprised me. I had never seen them here before. Our forest community consists of the many different species of plants, animals and other organisms that live together in this place. The caterpillars had suddenly exploded onto the scene. This was surprising because the rest of the community suffered greatly after the hurricane. Odius H. didn’t know how long all these caterpillars had been here. He did know that he had been born from an egg about four weeks earlier.
Odius H. came in to see me because he was having bad dreams. He wanted to know if I could explain them to him. One was a vision-of-grandeur dream. The other was a fear dream.
In his vision of grandeur, Odius H. talked about becoming a creature of great beauty. This creature could fly through the forest community. He believed he was a nympha something-or-other. I explained to him that it was common for young creatures to dream impossible dreams. When he became an adult, he would come to accept what he was—a humble, crawling, wormlike insect. He would be content. I pointed out that he had no wings. Therefore, he could not fly. I also pointed out that I had studied Greek and Roman mythology. Nymphs were beautiful, godlike maidens. They resembled parts of nature, such as trees, water, and mountains. It seemed sad to me that such a lowly creature—and a male at that—would dream of being a nymph. As it turned out, I did him a great injustice. You will understand as you continue to read.
In the fear dream Odius H. described an obsessive fear, bordering on panic, of a certain kind of fly. He called it a tachinid fly. He felt sure that many of his fellow caterpillars were dying. The culprit was this tachinid fly. I reminded him that, according to him, there were thousands of caterpillars in the forest. Thus, they must be doing well. Also, he was much bigger than a fly and would be able to defend himself if a fly came by.
I believe Odius H. felt better after our session.