The Caterpillar and the Stinging Nettle:

A Story of Two Creatures That Learn to Work in Harmony to Survive

By Cameron Lindsay

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Once upon a time… in the luscious woodlands of Golden Gate Park, there lived a caterpillar named Cooper who often enjoyed wandering through the trees and grassland of his home.

One day, when he was out on a forest adventure, Cooper’s stomach began to growl, and he started to look around for something to eat. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something deep green waving in the breeze. Cooper hurried toward it, filled with glee. Without hesitation, Cooper chomped down on the tasty leaf.

Suddenly, a huge spider scuttled out from behind the tree and began charging toward Cooper with a ravenous look in its eyes. Cooper, petrified by the sight of this predator, ran as fast as he could away from the spider. Panting and breathless, Cooper eventually escaped and hid behind a log.

Cooper was miserable behind the log. He just wanted to feel carefree and discover new things in this magnificent park he called home, but he couldn’t go anywhere without being ambushed by bigger, stronger, and hungrier creatures. That night, he went to sleep in dismay, worried that he would never feel safe.

The next morning, Cooper decided to be brave and explore a new part of the park. As he moved slowly and cautiously, he came across a perineal herb. At first, Cooper was afraid. The plant was tall, slender, and green, and as Cooper craned his neck to inspect it further, he discovered that its leaves were jagged and spiky, alarmingly resembling the teeth of greatly feared predators.

Cooper turned to hurry away, but as he did so, he heard rustling behind him.

“What’s your name?” implored a hopeful voice.

“Cooper,” responded the timid and trembling caterpillar.

“Nice to meet you, Cooper. I’m Sammy,” said the mysterious plant. Cooper was too nervous to say anything else, so he stood there, frozen.

“Please don’t be scared,” Sammy, the green giant, said, “I promise I won’t hurt you.”

“What… what are you?” asked Cooper.

“I’m a stinging nettle,” replied Sammy.

“A stinging nettle?” questioned Cooper. He had never heard of a stinging nettle before.

“Well, my real plant name is Urtica dioica, but most people call me a stinging nettle because of my leaves. They sting pretty much anything that touches me,” said Sammy, with an awkward look on his face.

“Oh…” replied Cooper, who began to move away from Sammy.

Sammy wilted as he saw that Cooper did not want to stay and talk. Sammy was a lonely plant. Everyone was so scared of him, and no one wanted to be his friend.

“Are you hungry?” Sammy asked Cooper.

Cooper stayed quiet. Of course, he was hungry. Adventuring through the woodland always built up his appetite.

“You can eat some of my leaves if you want,” implored Sammy.

“But won’t it hurt me?” asked Cooper.

“Oh, no, it won’t hurt you,” said Sammy, “I have hosted caterpillars before, and they loved eating my leaves. Promise.”

Cooper wasn’t sure whether to believe Sammy, but he was so hungry that he decided to give it a try. Slowly and cautiously, Cooper crept toward one of Sammy’s leaves. Poking a leg out, Cooper lightly touched the leaf. To his relief, he didn’t feel any effects. Cooper was pleased and steadily pulled his way up, finding himself sitting entirely on the leaf and feeling perfectly fine. Cooper and Sammy both giggled with glee.

Sammy gave a nod of approval to Cooper, signaling that it was okay for him to take a bite out of the leaf. Cooper grinned and began to munch on the green deliciousness before him. After gobbling down a few mouthfuls, Cooper realized that some tiny orange grains had fallen off his feet onto Sammy’s leaf. Cooper went to brush the grains away.

“Wait!” Sammy said. Sammy inspected the orange grains and smiled. “It’s pollen. You must have collected it as you climbed over my flowers. Don’t worry, it’s good for me.”

“Why is it good for you?” Cooper asked.

“It helps me to reproduce,” Sammy replied.

“Wow,” said Cooper. “Well, I’m glad I could give you something in return for that delicious meal.”

Sammy and Cooper smiled at each other.

“Is it okay if I stay here?” asked Cooper, “Tomorrow, I’ll move more pollen!” he added.

Cooper nestled down in a clutch of leaves, thinking how he felt so cozy and at home. That night, Cooper and Sammy went to sleep feeling content and happy. In his dream sleep, Cooper realized he had been born on a stinging nettle, but he had gotten lost after being blown away in the wind. Now, he was finally home again.

Dmitry Makeev, CC BY-SA 4.0

And so, from that day on, Cooper and Sammy were the best of friends. Cooper would take his journeys around Sammy’s leaves, moving pollen from one yellowish flower to another. Sammy would protect Cooper. As he moved amongst the leaves, munching away, Cooper was unafraid of any predators that may try and attack him. He knew Sammy’s leaves would protect him. Thankfully, Sammy wasn’t lonely anymore. He was so happy to have a friend, especially one that helped him to reproduce and grow even more stinging nettles.

In an effort to find friendship and security, Cooper and Sammy learn how to work together to survive.

Sammy’s leaves became Cooper’s main source of food, which allowed Cooper to become a beautiful and colorful Red Admiral butterfly who loved to make friends with the people he met in the park.

Let’s learn from the stinging nettle and the caterpillar. We must work together, in harmony, to help each other.

To learn more about the climate crisis, conservation, and protecting habitats for creatures big and small, continue your journey with World Sensorium / Conservancy.

The Red Admiral caterpillar (Vanessa atalanta) on Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). Quartl, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cameron Lindsay is a writer focusing on social justice and environmental conservation based in New York and Brighton, England.

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Issue 26 – August 2023

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