I try to do activities that relate to what my daughter is learning in school. Here is one that both of us really enjoyed:
Last year C was learning about life cycles in school. I played with the idea of raising a chick, but thought better of it because (1) I really didn’t have space for the chick (2) the life cycle would take too long and (3) the kids would probably squash it. Then, I chanced upon a local farm selling butterfly kits – perfect!
Getting the kit
I went down to Oh’s farm the next weekend. When I heard about the butterfly kit, I imagined a fancy box with a built-in ecosystem. The actual item was much simpler, and cheaper. It was essentially a plastic container (those that you get when you do takeaway) modified with netting at the top, a satay stick, a piece of paper at the bottom. Each kit came with two caterpillars. The species of the caterpillar depended on the price you chose – $4 got you normal caterpillars, $7.50 for prettier ones. We got the cheaper one for a start. The kit also came with a bunch of leaves for caterpillar food.
Simple instructions for caterpillar care were stuck onto the container. In summary, we had to change the base paper, clear the droppings and put in fresh leaves every day and night. Simple enough. Apparently survival rate is only 50-60%. *Fingers crossed*
Day 1: Getting started
We got a closer look at the caterpillars once we got home. Spiky and colorful, they looked a little different from the usual garden variety. They also had a voracious appetite! The leaf that came in the container was almost gone so we decided to put in a new leaf- it was gone in 4hours! No wonder Eric Carle’s book is titled “The Hungry Caterpillar”. C was excited and kept bringing the container down to watch the caterpillars eat.
Day 2: Still eating
The caterpillars continued their non-stop eating…
Day 3: Start of a chrysalis
The caterpillars were decidedly fatter now. One of them had stopped eating and there were fine white strands of silk attaching it to the top of the netting. The transformation was beginning!
Day 4: Pupa stage
One of the caterpillars had formed a chrysalis, attached to the stick. The other continued roaming the container. There was a red liquid on the stick (I’m not sure what it was, probably a by-product). When clearing the base paper, we found an exoskeleton! C was rather freaked out as she thought that the caterpillar’s head had dropped off. I had to explain that it was simply changing its clothes and putting on its wings in the chrysalis.
Day 5: Two chrysalises
Both caterpillars had reached the pupa stage now. We just had to be patient and wait. I had to remind C that she should not keep moving the container, lest the movements caused the chrysalises to drop off. They were literally hanging on by a thread! We moved the container to a higher shelf, just in case.
Day 6: Still waiting
Occasional wriggling told us that the chrysalises were still alive. When the chrysalises were brought up to the light, they glistened and shimmered slightly. Pretty!
Day 8: Still no sign of a butterfly…
Day 9: Still alive?
Ok, by now we were wondering if the caterpillars belonged to the 50% that didn’t make it. No wriggling. C’s interest had somehow waned. I was keeping my fingers crossed really tight that there were no casualties. Research on the internet told me that there was still a chance that they were alive and the butterflies would emerge anytime.
Day 10: Emergence!
Finally a beautiful butterfly emerged! Unfortunately both of us missed the emergence process. We did get to see it extending its wings to let it dry out though. It was really a wonder of nature to see the spiky caterpillar transformed into a beautiful butterfly. C named it Louie. We kept it for a day as the wings were still wet, and not strong enough for Louie to fly yet.
Day 11: Louie II
Hooray! Louie II emerged the next day. Both had survived – 100% success rate! Unfortunately I had missed the emergence process again as I was at work. C saw it though, and she was able to describe it wriggling out of the chrysalis.
It was time to release both of them in the garden. C needed much convincing as she wanted to keep them both as pets. We told her that they would be happier among flowers and their friends, so with much reluctance, she opened the cover. Good bye Louie I and Louie II!
It was a simple 2 week activity, but with lots of learning opportunities in different aspects. C got to see and experience part of the life cycle of a butterfly, and learnt the proper names for each stage of the transformation. The book “The hungry caterpillar” took on a new significance, and she was truly able to relate to the events in the book each time she read it to her baby brother. She also learnt the importance of respect for nature, to allow the butterflies to return to their natural habitat. This was also her first time taking care of another living being (cleaning and feeding the caterpillars), and this has left a deep impression on her.