One of the last thoughts I had as I closed my eyes to manage what sleep I could last night was: What if Leaf decides to eat through the cheesecloth and escapes during the night? I know that stuff you find on the Internet isn't always trustworthy, but I'd gotten the idea from what seemed to be an intelligently written article on About.com. If caterpillars make a habit of eating through cheesecloth, it wouldn't have been recommended for use, right?
Maybe that's not how Leaf got out. Tom never saw an obvious hole, though I suppose it could have closed up as the strands of cheesecloth shifted through the night. Maybe, it was assumed that the opening would be out-of-reach of the caterpillar, though the importance of creating such a scenario was not stressed.
In any case, when I came into the dining room for breakfast this morning, I found a caterpillar home with no caterpillar in it. At around the same time that I noticed Leaf's absence, however, I could hear Gracie behaving strangely under a chair in the corner of the room. She was jumping around and batting at something. Saying a silent prayer that Gracie was still casing out her find and had not moved on to sampling it, I went to the corner to assess the situation.
Leaf was balled up on the floor. I could not immediately tell if he had been harmed, but thankfully he did not keep me guessing for long. He continued to play dead for about a minute after being dropped back in the jar, and then began to exhibit more activity than I had seen displayed all afternoon yesterday.
He had not touched the leaves I put in his jar, so I had Tom collect some different ones. Apparently, he's not a fan of those, either. I've yet to see him take a bite, though he's been frantically circling the jar all day. His refusal to eat combined with what appears to be a sudden sense of desperation has had me wondering if I should just let him go, and I was considering the possibility- not for the first time- when I checked in on him this evening.
He had finally stopped moving, having selected a spot in the center of his branch to rest on. Perhaps it was simply his bed time, as he ceased all movement around the same time yesterday. However, tonight, there seemed to be strands of cobweb-like material surrounding his form and taking up the space between his body and the surrounding leaves, which has left me wondering if the cocooning process has begun.
It was my understanding that it's not supposed to start until October, but then again, I'm only guessing at the species I've got based on his likeness to pictures I've found (an entomologist I am not), I'm basing my understanding on information provided by a random blog post on the Internet, and I'm interpreting said information without guidance (does "Caterpillar from July to October" mean that's the span of time that it remains a caterpillar, or simply that those are the months in which various specimens of the caterpillar may be found?). And in the end, for all I know I've interrupted the natural order of things by holding the little guy captive. Perhaps he's decided to pupate early as a result.
I guess I'll have to see how things are looking in the morning. If I find a cocoon in a jar, more respect to our new friend. If at first you don't succeed: try, try again.
He's got a better plan this time, that's for sure. When he breaks out as a moth, I'll be sure to set him free myself, well out of reach of the Curious Miss Gracie.
Still, if he really wanted to impress me, he would have left a miniature poster of Rita Hayworth in his wake...