Thursday, January 17, 2013

Toxic Toes

The wall in front of me undulates slowly.  If I didn't know better, I'd think it was alive, which, in a way, it is.  It is covered with lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillars.  These little babies congregate in the parks of Southern Ontario that are home to permanent and semi-permanent transportable domiciles.  A native of the Erie shores, it can also be found near the waters of Lake Ontario, further south in the rec rooms and/or garages of Windsor and the surrounding county, and occasionally as far North as Otter Lake.

Unlike normal caterpillars that undergo a dramatic change in their lives, transforming into either an elegant, colourful and beautiful butterfly or a drab, ratty moth, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar rarely makes it to the chrysalis stage, usually coming to an untimely end long before entering the long, deep sleep.  As you can see from the image, one of the key character traits of this caterpillar is the ability to blend into its surroundings.  The ability of the lysa lysa anthakhultjam to adapt to the circumstances in which it finds itself is uncanny.  This rare bug can transform from blushing wallflower, blending modestly into the vinyl siding, to a proud, confident educator-bug, leading groups of young eggs and caterpillars through their early stages of development.  At other times these fuzzy little creepers flirt with disaster, overindulging in the juice of narcotic plants.  Indeed, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar is the inspiration for the worm at the bottom of the tequila bottle, the worm only being the choice of mainstream manufacturers as consumers were bothered by the hair the caterpillar left in their mouths in blind taste tests.  Well, the testers didn't start out blind, but you can only taste test so much tequila without suffering the consequences.

Nonetheless, thousands of these caterpillars will still find their way to the bottom of the many, many jugs of home-brewed tequila that are bottled in the transportable domiciles of North America.  And that is what makes the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar so extremely rare.  Nowhere else in the kingdom of bugs does such blatant disregard for self occur.  These fuzzy little buggies willingly dive to their liquidy doom, choosing a 100 proof tomb over life on the wing.  Their premature end is not without value however, providing entertainment for countless slack-jawed, mouth-breathers via games of "Who Ate the Cat'?", "Bug in Your Cup" and "Throat Tickler".  Indeed, the caterpillar is said to be the catalyst for the high drunkicity levels caused by these batches of "dishwater tequila", as a toxin released by the bug's suction cup feet boosts the effect of the drink tenfold.  In the tequila U-Brew circles this is known as the "caterpillar effect", whereby the actions of one small bug can have a dramatic effect on on a large number of connoisseurs who choose to imbibe in the authentic spirits.  For the denizens of these tin-walled enclaves, the results are often compounded by the lack of anything of more nutritional value in their diets than saltines, fried bologna and and Cheese Whiz®.
The super rare lysa lysa anthakhultjam in its native environs, blending into vinyl siding

Though often not visible in pictures, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar can also be found with shoes on its feet.  Though there is debate among bugologists as to whether these are in fact shoes, or as is vigorously argued by many, based on the style and composition of the footwear, slippers.  Although the caterpillar is indiscriminate when it comes to the occasions for which it chooses to wear such foot coverings, donning them while both in and out of the house, form seems like the determining factor over function.  This little caterpillar values comfort, forgoing the aesthetic of heels for the soft, fuzzy satisfaction found in a pair of slippers.  Despite the challenges faced by this little pinky-finger sized critter, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar soldiers on, returning every summer to those mystical shores and converted garages where it congregates with other like-minded bugs.  Oftentimes before their sojourn to the bottom of an authentic jug of tin-can tequila, these little buggies can be found relaxing in their easy chairs, feet up, slippers on, newspaper spread wide in front of them, with a snifter of scotch and some Benny Goodman on the radio, just enjoying their last moments.  The lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar is also known for its broad musical knowledge; indeed, in these last cozy moments groups of these caterpillars often enjoy rousing rounds of "Name that Tune" and "Guess the Lyric".

Sadly, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar is on the precipice of extinction but there are a number of organizations that are working hard to intervene in their disappearance through fundraising, educating the public, lobbying the government and seeking out corporate partnerships.  Groups like L.L.A.M.A.S.* and SaveOurC.A.T.S.** have made it their mission to halt the decline by any means necessary.  These groups, among others, are doing what bugologists the world over cannot.  They are using their numbers and political will to stop a potential tragedy.  It is actually beautiful when you stop to consider it; I know to most people they are just bugs, but if we look beyond that to how they can cause a group of people to pull together and fight for something they believe in, well, I think these little caterpillars are pretty darn special.

By the way, few people beyond my closest friends know this, but I actually have a lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar that has a place of honour in my collection.  However, due to its status on the verge of extinction, it only comes out on the rarest of occasions.  Otherwise I just stick with the Jose Cuervo.

*L.L.A.M.A.S. - Lysa Lysa Anthakhultjam Make Alcohol Superior
**SaveOurC.A.T.S. - Savour Caterpillars As Tequila Supplement

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