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  • Writer's pictureMathilde Burlion

The phobia of insect larvae is not inevitable

Updated: Nov 26, 2021 I was little I developed a phobia of caterpillars. I lived in an attic room with light colored walls. One or two small black caterpillars regularly entered it which contrasted well with the walls. I re-visualize them very well, these caterpillars which traumatized me by their mere presence. They invariably moved closer to the radiator below which they waddled. At first it amused me and then gradually they started to scare me. Without reason. I think it was the recurrence of the phenomenon that made me develop a phobia to the point of screaming that I saw one and not wanting or being able to sleep in this room without imagining that a giant caterpillar would devour me.

25 years later, I am raising large butterflies for an educational purpose: to teach children to know them, to love them and to protect them. Yes, you read that right, I breed caterpillars!

When I look at the path I have taken from phobia to breeding I am in awe.

What happened? Getting to know and deal with these insect larvae can take you from fear and disgust to caring, to wonder and maybe even who knows about some larvae ... to love

I) Awareness that prompts action

Monarch: larva and adult. The monarch larva feeds exclusively on milkweed. Planting milkweed contributes to the preservation of the habitat of this extraordinary butterfly which migrates from the east coast of the US and spends the winter ... in Mexico.

How do you feel when you hear news that life is in danger somewhere?

Of course, we cannot really answer this question without knowing what form of life we ​​are talking about and without relating it to other forms of life.

For my part, I am particularly sensitive when a context makes vulnerable a species which already falls into the category of endangered species because I feel connected to this form of life. This is a coral in the Maldives destroyed by the creation of an artificial island, I am sad and angry for the endangered life of this coral. So you're going to tell me that I haven't finished being sad and angry, sure, but the fruit is that these feelings give me strength for myself to kick in and act.

But back to our sheep and my first action was to welcome: to welcome life by observing and learning who are the different living beings in the garden, what are their needs and their products, their strengths and their weak points and above all, what are the relationships they maintain with the other forms of life around them (symbiosis, parasitism, etc.)

II) Observe and understand

Black swallowtail: larva and adult, the larva regularly changes appearance and feeds on plants belonging to the carrot family such as parsley.

So I started to look at caterpillars as living beings in their own right with a life cycle of their own (the larval stage is just one stage in the life of an insect), needs like eating greenery, and so many other aspects: their ability to camouflage themselves, to serve as food for birds, to eat other insects… I discovered a world in my own right in my garden.

Hervé Coves tells us: “Life is good! ". This agricultural engineer keeps teaching us through this research that the life of every living thing has a meaning and that it is worth stopping and trying to understand. Here if you want to understand the principles of permaculture in action, I recommend any of his videos.

Observing and understanding the why of an insect in the life cycle of nature unfolding before our eyes allows us to tame it. We go from a purely emotional relationship to one that I would describe as "reasonable".

I trained in organic gardening. This training was the crucible of my meeting with many insects whose interests are sometimes completely incompatible with mine.

III) Reality

Now able to observe and knowing better the role of certain insects, of certain plants, of my soil, I can really become "manager" of my garden. My values ​​guide me in my choices.

Two species of butterflies see their habitat threatened by a lack of plants that feed them: monarchs and swallowtail. This led me to wish to see their population increase gradually. So I raised them in a protected environment. I grew milkweed for the monarch caterpillars and parsley and carrots for the swallowtail.

Taking care of these animals made me tame and love them. Like Antoine de St Exupéry's Little Prince and his rose, my caterpillars were not just any caterpillars, they were unique because they are the ones that I fed, of which I cleaned the cage and which metamorphosed into butterflies under the astonished eyes of my children who let them fly for their long trip to Mexico. Yes I can actually say I liked these caterpillars!

My wish to feed my family with as many vegetables as possible from the garden made me crush a number of larvae and insects that parasitized my vegetable plants.

Some insect species are invasive. That is, they arrived by mistake in an ecosystem that is not able to regulate them naturally. They can destroy this ecosystem. I also crushed these insects a lot.

At first crushing insects and their larvae made me uncomfortable. By repeating this gesture, in one season I was able to do it with my bare hands! Having said that, I am not yet ready to eat them haha.

Pieris rapae: this white butterfly native to Europe and an invasive species in the US. In Europe as in the US, its larva eagerly eats cabbage leaves.

So I would say that I solved my "phobia of caterpillars" by taming them. I tamed them by a path in three stages: an ecological awareness, a time of study and learning on the question and finally a confrontation with the reality of my vegetable garden in which I played my role of manager. .

I am convinced that education is an excellent lever to fight against phobia and that is why I created a workshop for children on caterpillars. It's called "The very hungry caterpillar". In this workshop, we review the story of the life cycle of a butterfly. Through breeding, children can observe each stage of the cycle in real life and it leaves them with a memory they will talk about for a long time.

This article participates in the event "My relationship with animals", organized by the blog Ma médiation animale which I very much appreciated for its article on l'entrepreneuriat. You will also have the opportunity to discover other articles on the topic of pet therapy if you are interested.

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