When people use the expression about seeing things through the eyes of a child, it is because children can often observe the world without any baggage.
I was reminded of this when my daughter, Celia, discovered a horned worm among our tomato plants and named it “Bob.” She made a home for Bob out of a coffee can with holes poked in the top and filled it with tomato leaves and dirt. I came home from work and she was holding Bob in her hand to observe his sticky feet.
I have to admit, I have a little baggage when it comes to horned worms. Seven years ago, when my son was exactly her age, he, too, bonded with a horned worm. He took it in a jar to Mr. Morris’ second-grade class at Needham to show the rest of the students. He proudly kept it in his cubby until we found it at the end of the year – molded.
For anyone who looks at horned worms as tomato killing pests, this may not sound so awful. But, I could never get the sight of a molded horned worm out of my head. As executive director of Durango Nature Studies, I try to find fascination around everything in the natural world, especially in front of my kids. But, when Celia jokingly put Bob on my neck, I couldn’t help screaming in panic as I tried to knock it off. I was definitely not seeing things through the eyes of a child when all I could envision was Bob’s molded ancestor.
Second chances come along every once in a while in big and small ways. It is a good reminder that even the lowly horned worm deserves a second chance. As fleshy and destructive as they may be at the caterpillar stage, they turn into hummingbird (or sphinx) moths. These moths have a 4- to 6-inch wingspan in colors ranging from brown and gold to pink and gray. They often are mistaken for small hummingbirds when they hover over flowers.
Moths are the nocturnal counterpart to butterflies and, like butterflies, perform necessary pollination tasks. Many flowers can only be pollinated by hovering moth species because they don’t have a prominent landing platform. The moth must insert its protracted proboscis (the hollow, straw-like tongue) deep into the base of the flower while rapidly beating its wings, suspended in the air.
So, if too many garden horned worms are killed for the sake of protecting tomatoes (or school science projects), we would lose an important pollinator that keeps many flowers and garden plants reproducing, as well as providing nourishment to bats and other bug-eating nocturnal creatures. So, as for second chances, the horned worm represents what will be, not what is at the moment, and certainly deserves to be looked at as such.
As for Bob, we have learned from our mistakes. After spending two luxurious nights in a coffee can, Bob was returned to the wild, alive and well, but far away from our tomato plants.
Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at [email protected] or 382-9244.