|Study Life Cycles with Butterflies|
Kids can use this butterfly unit to investigate changes in their own lives
Nearly a dozen monarch caterpillars occupy the small aquarium each September. As each new school year begins, my three children gather caterpillars from the leaves of the milkweed plants that grow along the roadside, make a home for them, and watch them grow. Every year, my kids are astounded by the incredible change from caterpillar to striking, black-and-orange butterfly. And every year, I'm awed by the change and growth in my kids. Here you'll find fresh, hands-on investigations that compare butterfly and human life cycles and help you connect math and science, too.
HANDS-ON SCIENCE: FROM CATERPILLARS TO BUTTERFLIESConcepts: Insects undergo dramatic changes throughout their life cycle. All living things change during their lifetimes.
Skills: observing, predicting, measuring, communicating, comparing, and contrasting.
Vocabularycaterpillar: the larval stage of a butterfly or moth
chrysalis: the hard shell covering the pupa; shaped like an upside down teardrop
larva: the second stage of metamorphosis, during which an insect is wormlike and has new wings
pupa: the third stage of metamorphosis; encased by a chrysalis
Finding the CaterpillarsThe best way to find caterpillars is to locate their food source. Monarch caterpillars feed only on milkweed. Several species of this common wildflower grow throughout the United States. To find the yellow-black-and-white-striped caterpillars, lift the plant's leaves. Gently pull the caterpillars off and transport them in a ventilated jar to school. If you'd rather purchase caterpillars, see the resource box on the next page for ordering information.
Making the HabitatsTo care for the caterpillars, you will need a container that allows them to get air and to move around. A small aquarium with a screen lid works well. If you wish to have groups of students make their own caterpillar habitats, here is an easy way to do it.
Activities Kids LoveIt takes about two weeks for a caterpillar to become a chrysalis. Here are some investigations your students can do as you watch the caterpillars grow.
Extension Activity: Circle of LifeDiscuss with students how the butterfly develops through four stages of metamorphosis egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (butterfly). The adult barely resembles the larval stage in appearance or behavior. This is known as a complete metamorphosis.
Invite students to compare the butterflies' growth and changes with their own growth and development. Ask them to bring in pictures of themselves as infants and toddlers. Using these photos and their caterpillar charts and diaries, students can create two circles of life one for the butterfly and one for themselves. To make a circle of life, each student will need two sheets of white construction paper, a file folder, and a brass paper fastener. Here's how to assemble the circles.
BooksButterfly Story by Anca Hariton (Dutton, 1995)
Life of the Butterfly by Heiderose and Andreas Fischer-Nagel (Carolrhoda, 1995)
The Butterfly Alphabet Book by Brian Cassle and Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by Mark Astrella (Charlesbridge, 1995)
The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies by Jean Craighead George (HarperCollins, 1993)
Butterflies Abound! A Whole Language Resource Guide for K-4 by Seddon Beaty (Addison-Wesley, 1993)
VideoGeo Kids: Tadpoles, Dragonflies, and the Caterpillar's Big Change (National Geographic Society). For information or to order, call (800) 368-2728.
SoftwareAnimals and How They Grow (for Macintosh) is a CD-ROM package for grades K-2. Use it to compare insect and other animal life cycles. (National Geographic Society,  368-2728).
Butterfly SuppliersThe following companies will ship painted lady caterpillars directly to your school. They also have catalogs of other butterfly-related materials.
Insect Lore, P.O. Box 1535, Shafter, CA 93263; (800) LIVE-BUG