I thought for sure that my zale caterpillar would die shortly after the parasites left his* body two days ago. But he's still alive. Not doing well, but still alive. Most of the time he is resting, looking rather shrivelled, which can be expected, considering the circumstances. And he hasn't been eating, which is bad because that is a caterpillar's prime directive. A couple of times a day, I have been checking on him, giving him a little spritz of water or stroking him gently with a teeny tiny paintbrush to see if he flinches. (He did.)
Last night before I went to bed, I stroked him with the paintbrush and I didn't see him move. I figured he was dead, or almost dead. But this morning, I was surprised to find him flinching strongly again. He still hadn't eaten, and I was in doubt if he had taken in any of the water I had been spraying on him, but I figured I would continue to keep him and observe him. He's either going to rest and recover or starve to death, but this morning I collected some fresh oak leaves just in case.
On my way home from the neighbors with the oak tree, I found a bumblebee, almost dead. I brought it home and tried to feed it a drop of honey from my kitchen, but it was too far gone, poor thing. Then I had a wacky idea. Would the ailing zale caterpillar take some honey?
This is a wacky idea with some logic behind it, and some precedence. I have fed honey to sick mantids several times with good results. My logic is that honey is a simple sugar produced by insects and meant to be eaten by insects. (OK, not mantids or caterpillars, but I'm just saying...) It's easy to digest, provides energy, and in the case of my mantids, has kept them going until they were strong enough to eat their normal food. So I gave the zale a tiny droplet of honey on the end of a toothpick.
He slurped it up! He looked around for more. I set him on a fresh oak sprig I had just collected and put a few tiny dabs of honey along the edge of one leaf. More eager slurpage! I refreshed the tiny dabs as the zale licked them up. I was hoping he would spontaneously progress from eating the honey to eating the tender green oak leaf, but when the honey was gone, he stopped moving.
I'm letting him rest for now. I don't want to overload him with too much honey at one time. I have no way of knowing how much his digestive system was damaged by the parasites. Or if the honey itself is harmful to him. But I'll give him some more in a couple of hours, and every so often, as long as he seems interested.
* I default to the male pronoun until gender can be confirmed.