Mark Washburn

April 26, 2014

Rising in defense of the lowly, um, cankerworm

Right off the top, you can start calling us by our real name, which most of you seem to think is “Ewwww!”

Right off the top, you can start calling us by our real name, which most of you seem to think is “Ewwww!”

We’re Paleacrita vernata, which we think is an elegant title, and we’ll thank you to stop referring to us as “cankerworms.” We’re not like open, gooey sores in your mouth. We’re not even grubby, icky, slimy worms at all.

We’re moths, for heaven’s sake.

For reasons we cannot fathom, you people of Charlotte grow murderously inhospitable whenever we visit. You coo over butterflies and ladybugs like they’re “Homeland” celebrities, but treat us Pal verns like vermin. It hurts our little feelings.

What’s with those sticky bands you wrap around your tree in autumn to trap us by the fistful when we’re beetling up the trunk for our mating ritual. Have you entirely forgotten what you were like at 17? Imagine getting dressed up for the disco with more than dancing on your mind, then tumbling into a tar pit in the parking lot.

You’re lucky to have us. We give little girls something to shriek about in an increasing suburban, snakeless world. We entertain little boys with our cartoonish locomotion, inch-by-arched-back inch. We invigorate your world, and we fatten your robins.

We get a bad rap on two things: munching trees and falling on your heads.

Sure, we like our salad, but it’s not like we’re into cattle mutilation.

Most trees don’t give us a second thought. Bulldozers and billboards are their natural enemies, and they know it.

We’re completely misunderstood on the head-landings. Scientists say they think we drop by gossamer threads to catch a breeze and fly somewhere new. Give us some credit.

No, we suspend ourselves from the boughs just to land in your hair.

We wait hours for the right person. We’re seeking the ear-podded, phone-staring plodders. They are the ones Nature has assigned us to.

When we alight, they rip out the ear buds, swing their phones wildly and act like they’re alive again. It is a wonderful sight.

For that moment, the pod-zombie becomes aware that life is being reborn. That birds have returned. That the trees are a symphony hall. That the sky is awash with that special, big blue.

We must remind them that spring, that joyous season that stirs the juvenile in all of us, has rebounded.

That’s all we’re doing, and we’re doing it well.

If you can’t say thanks, at least you can get off our backs.

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