Tonight, we have a special insect featuring in Monday Mandarin Meanings: máomaochóng, shown below:
These characters are special to me because they represent the word for “caterpillar”. You may be thinking, “O. M. G. It’s not an ant?!?!?!?” In which case I would reply, “Correct!” I would also say that máomao, the first two characters, mean “hairy”, so that the meaning of this word is “hairy insect”.
Even though caterpillars are as much like ants as Hobbits are like Ents, they nevertheless have the distinction of being the first group of organisms that piqued my interest in insects. It was really very simple:
Once upon a time, my family was at my grandmother’s house. Then, my father found a crazy-looking, hairy caterpillar on our car. He brought it to the rest of my family to show us, and I took it. I put it on a leaf. It started eating. I was amazed, because I could hear it eating. I named it Einstein. Another small one appeared, which I named Oreo. Then, I loved ants.
The caterpillars, I later discovered, were Banded Tussock moths (Halysidota tessellaris). They justify the name the Chinese have given them, for they are, in fact, quite hairy:
(Image from Blue Jay Barrens)