Earthwatch Endangered Ecosystems Home Scholastic Explorers

Rainforest Caterpillars
by Michael Fritzen

Grades: K–2

Unit Objectives:

Students will:

  • look at pictures of adaptations present in caterpillars of Costa Rica and discuss their significance.

  • Model a stylized caterpillar out of recycled materials.

  • Exhibit good craftsmanship in their finished piece.

  • Preparation:
    Look at some photographs or examples of Costa Rican caterpillars. Use the photos and information found on to aid the lesson. Discuss the significance of the insect's adaptations, i.e., color, coverings, size, shape, and defenses. Compare and contrast the various species examined. Have students discuss which caterpillars they believe are more successful in surviving than others. Ask the students to support their responses with visual evidence.

    Rainforest caterpillars present a unique array of defenses against predators and parasitoids, from stinging spines to unusual forms of camouflage. Caterpillars have evolved these unusual defenses over time to ward off the numerous predators in order to survive to continue their species. Each year, new examples of caterpillar diversity are discovered and it is believed that over 160,000 described species of moths and butterflies exist in the world today, yet only about 15,000 of the associated caterpillars have been described. Hundreds of species will go undiscovered with the rate the rainforest is being destroyed.

  • pipe cleaners
  • empty egg cartons
  • tempura paint (assorted colors)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • yarn
  • feathers
  • googley eyes
  • paint brushes
  • glitter
  • beads
  • hole punch

  • Procedure:
    Explain to the students that after careful discussion and examination of rainforest caterpillars, they are going to be given the opportunity to create their own rainforest caterpillar based on the information they have studied.

    First, either give the students habitat scenarios on 3 x 5 cards, i.e., caterpillar lives on a spiny, purple plant in the Canopy layer and is preyed upon by bats, or allow the students to create their own conditions. Be sure to encourage students to write a brief natural history card describing what adaptations the caterpillar has, what it eats, color, size, rainforest level, predators, and behaviors (dropping, frass throwing, biting, etc.).

    Second, have the students to create their own caterpillar, using the materials on the material list, that would survive under the scenario's conditions that were given to them or the examples they created on their own.

    Third, encourage the students to create a drawing of the butterfly or moth that the caterpillar will eventually turn into. Have the students explain in writing, or through an oral presentation, the reason behind their butterfly or moth.

    In conclusion of the project, display all the creations as if it was an entomology display on rainforest caterpillars. Invite other classes in to view the exhibit and encourage the creators to explain the exhibit.

    This activity can be connected to art, natural history, science, language arts, and social studies.

    Students can work in teams of two. One student could create the caterpillar and the other student could create a parasitoid that would prey, or attempt to prey, on the caterpillar.
    Instead of caterpillars, students could create parasitoids with unique adaptations that could be used to combat the caterpillar's defenses.
    Using recycled materials, have students create rainforest caterpillars by outfitting a partner with recycled adaptations. The recycled materials could serve as the spines/toilet paper rolls, fur/old shirts, cryptic patterns/old magazines and hair/yarn.
    Have students create a fictitious story about their caterpillars. Allow them to illustrate the story, write the text on a computer or typewriter, and create the book cover. Students can take turns everyday reading the stories out loud to their classmates.

    Back to Top