Eric the caterpillar who became a butterfly may have flown the coop, so to speak, but what’s still thriving is the influence his story has had on a generation of children.
In the 12 or so days since Eric emerged from his chrysalis and fluttered off into the world, the Binalong home in which Eric was raised has become something of an art gallery with sketches, posters, paintings, etchings and mobiles, some of them quite elaborate, sent in by fans from all over Australia thanks to a Facebook page set up to chronicle his journey.
The page has generated nearly 11,000 likes in the short span of Eric’s journey from the verandah to his temporary indoor home, reaching 316,800 people and attracting 350,300 post engagements.
Eric-inspired field trips have given rise to an array of artworks swinging from the ceilings of classrooms in far-off places.
From Cloncurry State School and Nagoorin State School in Queensland to Applecross Primary in Western Australia, the works of youngsters so inspired by the story of Eric have emerged in colouring pencils, felt pens and glitter, carefully folded and sent via post to his Binalong home.
“I’m still trying to find time to read through them all myself,” Eric’s “foster mother” Leanne Heffernan said. “It’s been incredibly humbling and I really don’t know what to do with all of the attention it generated!”
But she admits it has offered consolation.
“It was a strange feeling when everything happened, we had waited and waited and finally got the butterfly we had all been waiting to see… and then he was gone,” she said.
“We set him free and he flew away and everything came to a grinding halt.
“All the time spent watching the chrysalis, updating everyone, taking photos, preparing for a butterfly, responding to messages and comments on the page which was going crazy… and then it was all over and I really did feel so lost.”
Leanne said she had a few days where she did several radio interviews and a TV news interview with Channel 9.
“That was a bit hectic, but they wrapped up pretty quickly, too and things are returning to normal!” she said.
“I guess one thing this experience has taught me is to open my eyes and actually look at the world around me. I had been missing so much and now that I take the time to wander outside and really look, I’m noticing so much life and so many fascinating insects and birds.
“I’ve found four more tailed emperor chrysalises and yesterday I discovered about a dozen newly laid eggs so there should be an influx of baby Eric caterpillars on the way soon!”
She’s now raising swallowtail caterpillars alongside her family, who are equally entranced by the natural wonders in their backyard.
“[My kids and I] have learned so much through this little adventure and it’s also shown us how many kind-hearted people there are out there,” Leanne said.
“Who could possibly have anticipated that 10,000 people would want to watch our little caterpillar complete his journey?
“All those people had absolutely nothing to gain out of this apart from the pleasure of seeing this strange little creature that was struggling to beat the odds that were hugely stacked against it.
“It gave them hope, it gave them something to look forward to, and it gave them a distraction from all the grim stories dominating the news.
“It was a ripple effect that spread across oceans and brought a lot of compassionate strangers together and I feel really lucky to have been able to share Eric’s journey with them all”.
Leanne – an author – is now seeking to commit the story to print in the form of a children’s book.
“I’ve got a book for older readers in the works, too, which will be like a compilation of all the Facebook posts, put together in order and tied together to become a sort of journal telling the story, but it isn’t anywhere near finished yet,” she said.
Meanwhile Eric the Amazing Caterpillar’s Facebook page continues to grow its audience with Leanne’s entertaining and cheerful daily observations of the wild and not-so-wild lives of the animals around her in Binalong.