Eric the Caterpillar’s Amazing Journey has taken the world by storm the last three weeks racking up over 12,000 followers on social media as he changed into an Emperor butterfly recently.

Leanne Heffernan found little Eric on her veranda in Binalong and discovered he was a Tailed Emperor butterfly. She named him Eric after Eric Carle author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

She said if it hadn’t been for his namesake and reading that book when she was younger and to her own children, she may not have felt such an attachment to the little fella.

However, Eric was in trouble. He was covered in tiny white eggs, likely belonging to a Tachinid fly, which would hatch and eat him alive in his chrysalis (eek!).

Leanne organised to take Eric to her friend and local biologist, Mel Edwards, the next day to attempt to remove the eggs but Eric had already begun to form his chrysalis. Sirens blaring, he was rushed to Mel’s where she began removing every egg she could using a needle, tweezers, and some TLC.

Back home in his tank at Leanne’s, Eric did not look well.

He had curled up and was lying despondently at the bottom of his tank. Leanne began pondering what happens when you interrupt a caterpillar who’s busy going through the self-discovery journey to totally transform himself aka form his chrysalis. Most of us just backpack through Europe, but each to their own!

Leanne did some research, and someone suggested hanging the caterpillar up on a cotton bud to trick it into thinking it’s attached to a branch and ready to roll. She gave it a shot and built him a little tower made of Lego with Eric hanging upside down in the middle.

Then Leanne waited… and waited… and waited. Two days later upon returning from a trip out of town, Leanne discovered that he had fallen off his tower and was lying on the bottom of his tank.

Leanne thought this must be it for little Eric lying there half covered by a leaf but at last he had started forming his chrysalis! So she picked him up and popped him back on his cotton bud.

17 long days later Eric at last emerged.

In the meantime, Leanne had been documenting his journey on his Facebook page – Eric’s Amazing Journey and received messages from all over the world. Kids and adults alike were fascinated by Eric’s journey.

The night before he came out Leanne realized that the chrysalis was turning clear and she could see the black pattern of his wings coming through.

“Up until that moment, I didn’t actually know if he was even still alive in there,” she said. “We did- n’t know what was going to happen.”

“You could see the butterfly curled up inside, which was really amazing, I had never seen this before.”

Leanne said all of Eric’s followers were on tenterhooks and commenting – ‘Come on Eric, you can do it!’.

The next morning a split appeared in the front of the chrysalis.

“Over about three minutes or so he just emerged, and his little wings were all crumpled up and folded.”

“He came out and just hung on to the shell of the chrysalis upside down and just gently started to flap and flex these wings.”

Leanne said he had the most beautiful patterns on him, and he was just perfect.

“It was such a relief and such a beautiful moment to actually see that he succeeded in his little quest against all the odds of what he had been through – He was a butterfly.”

Two of Leanne’s children were able to watch Eric emerge and were amazed by what they were seeing.

“That was really special, to be able to sort of share that with them and talk them through what was happening as it happened,” she said. “They just couldn’t believe that this beautiful butterfly had come from that little pod that we’d all been staring at for the last two and a half weeks.”

Shortly after, Leanne released Eric into the wild (better watch out flowers!).

Leanne and Eric the Butterfly

“I was really sad, it was the right thing to do,” Leanne said. “I was really happy that we got to a point where we could do that for him.”

“But to actually let go of him after everything that had been happening and all of the time and energy and focus that I had just poured into him for the last couple of weeks – It was hard to let go of that.”

Reminiscent of watching your children head off to university, it was a beautiful but scary moment.

Eric sat there for about three minutes before testing out his wings and taking off arcing up over Leanne and her family’s heads off into the trees.

“But it was also quite empty once he was gone,” she said. “I could- n’t keep him safe anymore so he could have gone out and had something bad happen.”

“There are birds, spiders, cars if he managed to fly down to the road but that’s just part of this process, isn’t it?”

“Hopefully he’s going to be okay, and he’ll meet another butterfly and make lots of little Eric’s and continue the circle of life.”

“The world’s been a really sad, frightening place with COVID,” Leanne said. “It’s really nice to be able to just have a distraction that is bright and cheerful and it’s positive and it’s given people something to look forward to and to hope.”

Historic Binalong once home to the poet Banjo Paterson and bushranger Johnny Gilbert will now host Eric for the next five to eight months. So keep an eye on the treetops and you might spot him.

By Brianna O’Rourke