Back in October, I experienced a bit of a surprise as I was weeding our rock-wall shelves. Perhaps more surprising to some may be my reaction to what happened – a true indication of just what a nature nerd I am.
Bending under an acacia bush and tugging at weeds, I felt a sharp sting and instant numbness on and beneath my shoulder. I won’t lie – I freaked out, slapping at my back, running toward my husband screaming, “Is there something on me? Is there?” (My fear was that I’d been bitten by a black widow, since they are in abundance).
He saw nothing, but the numbness intensified, and by the time I got into the house, this is what I saw:
Me (much calmer, now … I mean, my airways weren’t closing, so I figured I would live): “I think there are caterpillars that spit venom. Let me see if I can find the culprit.” Armed with my camera, I discovered this:
The next logical step – in my mind – was to Google what kind of caterpillar I was looking at to assess its threat. My best guess: a hemileuca juno buckmoth caterpillar, which I learned is covered with venom-tipped, dart-like hairs that are shed in defense. For safe measure (after seeing the word venom!), I consulted the Arizona Venom/Poison Center. Of course, I offered to email photos – of myself and the culprit.
Shortly after my first conversation with the poison/venom center, I received a call back indicating that the photos were fabulous – could they use them for publication? And, yes, they thought my ID of the stinging caterpillar was accurate.
So this is where my nerd-dom makes itself abundantly clear: I was SO excited. “Yes!” I nearly shouted into the phone. “Use my photos.” And if that weren’t enough, I received another call a few minutes later from an M.D.-researcher at the University of Arizona who said, “We never get photos like this. I would love to submit these for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.”
My excitement now (forget the pain on my arm) was off-the-charts! The M.D. told me that their entomologist was also working on an official ID of the caterpillar. **Cue sirens of joy!** An entomologist? Woo hoo! (I later learned that the entomologist had never seen one of these caterpillars. So I obliged him with more photos):
The greatest irony of this tale? This stinging sucker becomes a gorgeous moth with grapefruit-colored underwings – one I have admired for years, and have nicknamed a “Muppet” because of its furry gray toupee and all-around cuteness:
For Readers, Writers, Everyone: Lesson learned: sometimes the things we love and admire can hurt us.
That lesson is a theme we often see in the best fiction. Can you recall any favorite books that highlight some kind of betrayed love or loyalty? What about books – or incidents in real life – where beloved Mother Nature turns on her doting admirers? What about family members who turn on those they love? When you write, do you add this element to your storylines?