The Stinging Nettle Caterpillar drew First Blood last week. I've never wanted to obliterate, until it's completly gone, a life form before. Until now.
A formitable enemy, Darna pallivitta is about the camoflauged length of a thumb nail at it's most venomy, comes from fuzzy brown sacks loaded with 480 eggs at a time, each one morphing through seven different life phases. Eggs and larvae slipped security into the Big Island via ornamental raphis palms imported from Taiwan to a nursery in Hilo.
I was told by some students the Stinging Nettle Caterpillar was a mile mauka of our school last year. Over the summer, the painful bugga was discovered at Pua Lani Park - half mile straight south. Last week, I found one of the potent pests in my own garden just a mile north and makai of our school.
I can only now bring myself to write about the darn thing because we finally came up with a solution that helped me get some sleep. It took a few days to ask the right wise farmer, and of course, it was Nancy Redfeather who reminded me of it's nocturnal egg-laying stage.
Her words made me buck up and think like a Nettle Destroyer. We will stalk and kill it's night-marching moth with a iron zapper. I will take plastic-jarred prisoners and talk about it near and far, so distant garden teachers can protect and defend their outside-exploring students.
But before this light at the end of the garden, I was stressing. I thought of the Stinging Nettle Caterpillar as a garden class game changer. I had a bad feeling about a sense of strangling brought to our worry free garden classes. Sure, there was always bees, wasps, and centipedes to keep a close eye on but these potentially harmful critters seem routine in the minds of most. Everyone knows a bee sting is sure to disappear by recess.
'Lil Nettle is different. Reaction varies, but I know adults that felt two weeks of itchy pain. My mind flashed to a million things: a child's first garden experiences tarnished by a tramatizing sting. I could imagine some children completely freaking out. Would parents be supportive? How to eliminate a invasive species without damaging our school's nutritious and beautiful edible ecosystems? How to treat a painful sting when I can't legally administer the suggested calamine lotion and benedryl?
My nightmarish thoughts prevented four solid nights of sleep. There goes carefree days in the garden. I know I've been helping students discover vital knowledge that will help them survive in a questionable future but I never pictured myself doing physical armed battle for beloved students against a maruading leaf-eating refugee.
Yesturday a strapping eighth grade boy that lives on a farm was the victim of a stinging nettle caterpillar that fell from a banana he was machette-ing down during garden class. It landed square on the back of his hand. I was standing a foot away, saw it, and brushed it off. I had him wash it with soap (as instructed) and put ice on it. I called his grandfather while the boy stated with calm conviction, "It hurts. It definitly hurts. Burns." He turned down the pick-up his grandfather offered in a brave voice and lunch/recess was the next subject.
One day later his hand is swollen and sore and jr.highers are false sighing stinging caterpillars by the garden tent.
Why are we importing transplants from Taiwan? How are these things inspected? What are we going to do as invase species get more dangerous for humans? Have I become my enemy to when I destroy a caterpillar that is really just following it's instinct?
I can sleep tonight because bug zappers are within my reach. The Stinging Nettle Caterpillar has seven life phases; seven different opportunities for a savvy gardener to attack back.
As Nancy said, "Krista, you know this is a great educational opportunity."
Krista Joan says:
My mission is to teach, train, and testify in resistance to the white supremacy of my ancestors. My personal choices are political, powerful, and practical. Let's trash waste.