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Binalong caterpillar’s journey now a global phenomenon

Edwina Mason15 February 2022
Caterpillar

Eric the Caterpillar is a social media sensation. Photos: Leanne Heffernan.

A tiny green caterpillar living in Binalong is rapidly becoming a worldwide phenomenon as his story races around the planet, tickling the heartstrings of everyone who reads it.

What began as a random find has now become a personal Facebook page – gathering a massive 5000 followers in two days – who are witnessing the transformation of the unique little fellow into a magnificent butterfly.

As of 15 February, less than a fortnight later, and almost 9000 people have signed up to follow the page.

Eric the Caterpiller has author Leanne Heffernan to thank for his celebrity, and at this juncture, we’re sticking with Eric being a male because there aren’t many female Erics!

Leanne Heffernan

Author Leanne Heffernan found Eric and has since set up a Facebook page called Erics Amazing Journey, which has attracted 9000 followers from around the world in just a week.

Housed in his small purpose-built aquarium fitted out using her children’s Duplo, Eric’s unlikely to understand why he has become a beacon of hope for people from Scotland to South Africa and everywhere in between, but it’s quite a story.

Leanne found Eric as she was walking along her verandah on 4 February.

The mature green caterpillar, she said, with its yellow markings and four small horns was so striking she immediately had to go into research mode, discovering that it was, in fact, on its way to becoming a Tailed Emperor (Polyura sempronius), a widespread but uncommon butterfly.

When mature, Eric will take flight with wings around 75 to 85 millimetres in size, making it a rather large butterfly. The wings will be marked black and white at the top, and red and yellow-browns on a white background, with black outlines and a bright orange border on the hind wing.

“I named him Eric after Eric Carle, author of everyone’s favourite childhood caterpillar story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” she said. “I decided to set him up in a little enclosure so the kids could watch the magic of his transformation.”

But their world was immediately rocked by the discovery of tiny white eggs on Eric’s body which Leanne said she was horrified to discover belonged to a Tachinid fly.

“Those eggs would hatch while Eric was inside his chrysalis and eat him alive,” she said. “The internet said there was nothing that could be done and I shouldn’t mess with nature”.

Melanie Edwards

With a PhD in biology, it was fellow Binalong native Melanie Edwards who came to Eric’s rescue.

A single call for help via Facebook resulted in Binalong alchemy in the form of local woman Melanie Edwards, with a PhD in Biology, raising her hand to help, just as Eric had started to make his cocoon.

Without giving too much away – the hour by hour life and death struggle of Eric first gained momentum with followers in the tiny Southern Tablelands village sharing the story until it reached the nation’s capital and, boom, what is now currently a butterfly in its bed has had a tornado effect around the globe.

Eric’s posts – created by Leanne, who has previously authored the book I Still Dream of Horses – have the makings of a novel.

For instance: “… I checked on him and he was gone. He’d fallen off the cotton bud. I took the lid off his tank and looked inside and my heart sank. I could see his little head lying on the bottom, looking like it had been chewed off. I thought we must not have gotten all the eggs and they’d hatched and eaten him”.

“Caterpillar watch: Eric has been in his chrysalis for over 24 hours now so I guess we’re into day 2! Hopefully, he’s ok in there. Hard to say since he doesn’t do anything noticeable at this point!!

“Keep your fingers crossed for him that no fly eggs made it into there with him because it would only take one to destroy him, and that would be so so sad! If the chrysalis turns brown or black, it means it has failed so I’ll be keeping an eye on the colour of it. Go Eric, you amazing little creature!!”

“It’s getting pretty late here now so Eric is off to bed! Well, I mean… he’s technically been ‘in bed’ for four and a half days now… but you get what I’m saying.”

It’s resulted in a fully invested fan club that eagerly awaits the daily updates:

“Friends here in Malaysia have just seen Eric’s amazing story… sending positive vibes into the universe for him.”

Eric

With a bit of help from a four-year-old friend, Eric now has a vision board beside him so he knows what to do next.

“Sending Eric transformational protective vibes from the US!”

“Following Eric’s story from California.”

Including messages of hope: “With all that’s happening in the world, Eric reminds me to look at the small things and appreciate them more. I also love that there are at least 4000 [now 9000] in the world who choose to enjoy it too”.

“I’ve had messages and comments from followers in the USA, UK, Africa, South East Asia, Canada and, of course, all across Australia! It is so lovely to have every single one of you along for the ride so thank you,” says Leanne.

Right now, Eric is about halfway through his chrysalis with an estimated 16 February hatching date.

Right by his side is a vision board, created by Leanne’s four-year-old daughter Chloe, with instructions to help Eric understand what to do next.

If you want to learn the back story and follow the daily updates, sign up to Eric’s Amazing Journey.

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