I’ve worked with Metro Parks here in Columbus, Ohio for eleven years now and pride myself on being a highly trained professional naturalist. So it’s nice to see myself able to swing into action, make clear-headed decisions, and use my training in an emergency. It’s really nice when it results in the saving of a drowning victim in my own park. But I doubt I’ll get a medal for saving this life….
I have now successfully performed CPR on a caterpillar!
We have had our “chrysalis tree” (see photo below, which also appeared on the last page of the Monarch Watch 1997 Annual Report) up for a week now. This tripod of branches set in a shallow pan of water allows our caterpillars to make their chrysalises in full view of the the public visiting my nature center. Usually staff or a volunteer is at the desk to keep an eye on things. When I was closing up the building last night, I noticed one of the caterpillars had fallen in the water and was floating quietly. I had been showing folks the caterpillars there just a few moments before so I knew it hadn’t been in the water long. So I fished it out and laid it on my palm.
-Totally limp, like a drowned worm. I poked at its side –not even a reflex movement. I poked again and thought, “Well, why not?” So I began poking gently between each pair of prolegs, half expecting to see little jets of water squirting from its spiracles. That didn’t happen so I started working my way up and down its belly, trying to get its circulation going. I giggled to myself as I noticed that whenever I poked, its head would pop out like that child’s squeeze toy with the eyes that pop out. I kept doing that for about a minute, thankful that no one else was in the building to see me doing this crazy thing, and then gave up. I laid the caterpillar back down on the desk, gave it one last farewell poke, and … it curled reflexively, just a little!
I picked it back up, worked on it for a few seconds more, and it curled up tight around my finger! I left it alone then and watched as it gradually came to in my hand. Finally it did that neat little reverse curl to set itself on its feet and began swinging its head from side to side as if laying down silk. I put it back in a container by itself with a fresh milkweed leaf. By the time I was ready to leave for the night it had snacked a bit on the milkweed and seemed perfectly alright.
I don’t usually name the captive animals we keep in the Nature Center but I think I’ll make an exception and name this one – Lazarus, of course!