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The Beautiful Poison Caterpillar

from Things To See In Springtime





The Beautiful Poison Caterpillar (the moth is a little over life size) The Beautiful Poison Caterpillar (the moth is a little over life size)

The lovely Io Moth is one that you will see early, and never forget, for it is common, and ranges over all the country from Canada to the Gulf. When you see it, you will be inclined to spell its name Eye-oh—for it has on each wing a splendid eye like that on a peacock's tail-feather, while the rest of its dress is brown velvet and gold.


There is a strange chapter in the life of Io, which you should know because it shows that Mother Carey never gives any wonderful gift to her creatures without also giving with it some equal burden of sorrow.


This is how it all came about.


Long ago when the little ones of the Io Moth were small, they were, like most caterpillars, very ugly little things. They felt very badly about it, and so they set out one day for the great Home Place of Mother Carey in the Whispering Grove of the Ages.


There they prayed, "Dear Mother Carey, we are not of an ugly race, why should we be so ugly as caterpillars? Will you not make us beautiful, for beauty is one of the best things of all?"


Mother Carey smiled and waved a finger toward a little Brownie, who came with a tray on which were two cups; one full of bright sparkling pink stuff, and the other with something that looked like dark green oil. But the glasses were joined at the top, there was but one place to drink, and that reached both.


Then Mother Carey said, "These are the goblets of life, one is balm and will give you joy, the other is gall and will give you suffering. You may drink little or much, but you must drink equally of both. Now what would ye?"


The little ugly creatures whispered together, then one said: "Mother Carey, if we drink, will it give us beauty?"


"Yes, my children, the red goblet of life will give you beauty, but with it the other will give you grief."


They whispered together, then all the little crawlers went silently forward, and each took a long drink of the double goblet.


Then they crawled away, and at once became the most beautiful of all caterpillars, brilliant jewel-green with stripes of pink, velvet, and gold. Never before were there seen such exquisite little crawlers.


But now a sad thing happened. They were so beautiful that many creatures became their enemies, and began to kill them and eat them one after another. They crawled as fast as they could, and hid away, but many of them were killed by birds and beasts of prey, as well as by big fierce insects.


They did not know what to do, so next day the few that were left crawled back to the Grove of Ages, and once more stood before Mother Carey.


"Well, my Beauty-crawlers," she said, "what would you?"


"Oh, Mother Carey, it is fearful, everyone seeks to destroy us. Most of us are killed, and many of us wounded. Will you not protect us?"


"You drank of the two goblets, my children. I warned you that your beauty would bring terrible trouble with it."


They bowed their little heads in silent sorrow, for they knew that that was true.


"Now," said the All-Mother, "do you wish to go back and be ugly again?"


They whispered together and said: "No, Mother Carey, it is better to be beautiful and die."


The Splendid Silk-Moth (about 1/2 life size) The Splendid Silk-Moth (about 1/2 life size)

Then Mother Carey looked on them very kindly, and said: "Little ones, I love your brave spirit. You shall not die. Neither shall you lose your beauty. I will give you a defence that will keep off all your enemies but one, that is the Long-stinger Wasp, for you must in some way pay for your loveliness." She waved her wand, and all over each of the Beauty-crawlers, there came out bunches of sharp stickers like porcupine quills, only they were worse than porcupine quills for each of the stickers was poisoned at the tip, so that no creature could touch the Beauty-crawlers without being stung.


The birds and beasts let them alone now, or suffer a terrible punishment from the poison spears. You children, too, must beware of them; touch them not, they will give you festering wounds. There is only one creature now that the Beauty-crawlers truly fear; that is the Long-stinger Wasp. He does indeed take toll of their race, but that is the price they still must pay for their beauty. Did they not drink of the double goblet?







Next: The Great Splendid Silk-moth Or Samia Cecropia

Previous: The Four Butterflies You See Every Summer



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