Metro-East Living

Caterpillar catastrophe delays vacation until safety pin saves the day

Michelle Meehan Schrader
Michelle Meehan Schrader

“But we can’t let him DIE!”

It was 8 a.m. and my husband, Mark, had planned for our family to be on the road an hour ago. He hadn’t planned for the chrysalis hanging from the frame of our garage door to fall. Or for his wife to drop to her knees, crying. But you know what they say about plans. …

“It’s a bug, Michelle. A bug. Bugs die all the time.”

“But I KNOW him,” I said, cradling the chrysalis in the palm of my hand. “And it’s raining. He’ll drown!”

My caterpillar buddy was entombed in a coffin that, left unattended, would be buried at sea. No way were we heading off on vacation. We had to fix this first.

“You know him, too,” I told Mark. “Remember how cute he was?”

In truth, he was ill-tempered and weird looking. Lime green and orange with two sets of eyes, he reared up at me early one morning from above our garage door keypad. I recall jumping back and grabbing my chest. Then I laughed because he was way too little to be fierce.

Another of the caterpillar’s quirks: He liked to spit. Eventually, I realized he was building a chrysalis. When Mark came home, I introduced them.

“We can’t use the keypad anymore,” I told my husband. “We have a guest who needs to hang out there for a while.”

Mark rolled his eyes but he got a kick out of the caterpillar, too. We watched over our tenant’s progress until he disappeared inside the pod he built.

Other than the butterfly section at the St. Louis Zoo, I had never seen a chrysalis. As a kid, I kept cocoons on sticks in jars and clapped my hands when moths emerged. But this was different. This was a chrysalis. My little pal would be a butterfly – if he made it that far.

“Think,” I said. “There has to be something we can do for him.”

“Just lay him down under a ledge,” Mark offered. “Somewhere he can stay dry.”

I wrung my hands, as I always do when I’m frustrated. Sitting him under a ledge was no good. A predator would eat him. Or the wind would blow him away. Plus I was pretty sure he had to hang upright.

“I’m calling the Zoo!” I told my husband. And that’s exactly what I did. A few minutes later, a butterfly expert was instructing me how to save a life.

“Use a tiny drop of Superglue to attach the tip of the chrysalis to the head of an open safety pin,” he told me. “Be careful not to get the glue near his body. Then pin him back up like you found him -- right side up and long ways.”

Mark helped me hang the chrysalis and then he ushered me in the car. I tried not to worry about the caterpillar while we were in Florida. But a week later, when we pulled in the driveway, I couldn’t wait to see how he had fared.

He was just starting to emerge the night we got home. The next morning, I watched as he slowly pumped up his black wings. My formerly lime green buddy was a graceful spicebush swallowtail.

And I was there when he took his first flight.

Contact Michelle Meehan Schrader at