By Matthew Stoffel

The makeshift studio for the transforming caterpillar.
The makeshift studio for the transforming caterpillar.

I’m sitting here typing, shooting glances over my shoulder between each word to check the activity of the caterpillar. I’m eager. It’s hanging from the cup lid skewered to my bulletin board, my iPhone a foot away. My goal is to capture the entering of the caterpillar into chrysalis on film. Almost every book in my office serves as a tripod.

I’m positive the transformation will start soon. Sarah, horticulture intern of The Outdoor Campus, caretaker of the caterpillars, just left our office. Murphy’s Law dictates this caterpillar will start wiggling into chrysalis the moment she leaves Sertoma Park.

“Wiggling.” It puzzles me, but it’s the best word for how the transformation takes place. On TV and in children’s books I always thought the caterpillar would hang very still as the casing formed. But I can see the slit forming under the little guy where his current skin will separate and be squeezed up accordion-style to make way for the pale green layer emerging.

The caterpillar hangs in a "J" shape before enter chrysalis.
The caterpillar hangs in a “J” shape before enter chrysalis.
I witnessed it earlier. My girlfriend came to have lunch with me in the office, where another caterpillar was under similar observation. We watched it, knowing it was nearing time to transform. It was hanging upside down in a “J” shape, antenna deflated and limp. That time my hand shook as I tried to just hold the camera on the transformation.

The caterpillar over my shoulder is hanging the same now, and I know the moment is coming.

Waiting is agonizing. I’m writing to distract myself from anticipation, but the heavy reliance of the distraction on the obsession interferes with its effectiveness. The desire to get a good video is heavy. Between caterpillar and camera is the buffalo cutout seen throughout our Sioux Falls offices, printed with the mission statement of The Outdoor Campus. “… Provide education about outdoor skills, wildlife, conservation and management practices” grabs me. Provide education.

“… In order to preserve our outdoor heritage.” Maybe it’s a stretch, but in the moment I’m thinking how cool a video of the transformation could be. Maybe a mother will call her kids over from playing, as my mother often did, to show them something neat. Something interesting. Maybe that video will spark an interest, which might ignite a passion. Maybe not, but this is the pressure I feel as I look at the phone to realize it’s out of recording space.

My perspective during the filming.
My perspective during the filming.

Rushing the phone to the computer to transfer data the caterpillar shifts, making me jumpy, frustrated. When I finally get the phone in place, focusing the camera is impossible for the first few moments and my video doesn’t become the masterpiece I hoped. I get the focus, but the green is already traveling up. I had one goal. I’d never experienced my phone reaching capacity before – the lesson comes at the cost of success.

But maybe it can still spark an interest. Maybe knowing how badly I wanted to make it work will make up for the shoddy camera work.

I hope so.


One thought on “Frustration Filming Monarch Metamorphosis

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