Continuing Mothoween’s theme of legends from around the world comes this one from Queensland.
A Queensland hunter went on a long journey, taking his small son with him. It was hard for the little boy to keep up with his father, and day by day he grew thinner and weaker. Then came the rains. They fell without stopping until rivers rose and the land became one vast swamp. The little boy became ill. The only thing his father could do was to build a rough shelter of bark and branches of trees to keep the rain off him. Their food supplies had long been exhausted, and the man knew that his son would die if he was not given nourishing food quickly.
He tucked the boy up in his kangaroo-skin rug and splashed through the marsh in search of game. It was not easy to find in the flooded land, but after several days he found a possum and killed it with his spear. He hurried back to the gunyah he had built, fearful that he might find his son lying there dead from starvation.
He arrived at the clearing, which he recognized by the broken branches of trees and the little mound that rose above the water, but of the gunyah and his son there was no sign. He could not understand what had happened. He had been prepared to find his son’s body, but the last thing he imagined was that it, and the little gunyah that sheltered it, would have disappeared as through by magic.
He leaned against a tree. His hand came in contact with a loose knob of bark and twigs on the trunk. He looked at it idly and then, with a sudden sense of shock, more closely, for it was a replica of the little gunyah he had built to shelter his son. He opened it with trembling fingers. Inside the case lay the white body of a grub, and he knew that the spirits had taken pity on the boy and saved him from death.
To this day the grub of the Case-moth always has a gunyah which it builds to protect it, and remind it of how, long ago, a father cared enough for his son to build a shelter for him while he sought for food.
The Psychidae—or bagworm moths indeed build little cases to protect themselves as caterpillars! This family is made up of around 1350 species, which is small for Lepidoptera, but impressive in the fact that they can be found all over the world. Before pupation, larvae make cases for themselves out of silk, sand, lichen, pebbles, and any other material they can get their grubby little legs on. Some bagworm cases can get to be 15 cm long! Many adult males don’t have fully developed mouth parts and therefore can’t feed. However, females can. Some species of bagworms are pests. In some species of bagworm, parthenogenetic reproduction can occur, which means viable eggs can be produced without male fertilization. Other species don’t lay eggs at all, with caterpillars simply emerging from the female’s body after she dies (they sound like chestbursters…). The moths that do lay eggs do so… inside their case.