By Awnali Mills (video by Shelby Driskill)
I just realized that I’ve been intending to write up our April passive program, but things have been crazy busy around here and I hadn’t done it. So here’s our program—Butterflies!
After reading a very thorough write up on raising butterflies from Abby the Librarian, I convinced my boss that this was a good spring event, and away we went. We pretty much just duplicated everything that she did, including the science journal. Our journal wasn’t very popular even though several kids did use it to draw and record their observations. Mostly it was just people stopping to look and comment. The staff became quite the butterfly experts! We kept the information pamphlet that came with the caterpillars at the desk to answer questions we didn’t know off the top of our heads, and searched the internet for anything that wasn’t in the pamphlet.
What we did:
- I ordered the kit with plenty of time to get it. It does not come with caterpillars. It comes with a certificate that you then use to order caterpillars a few days before you’re ready to start raising them. You shouldn’t get them until it’s safe to release them outside. The information that comes with the kit explains how you’ll know when it’s safe.
- I asked around for a fish tank. Because the butterfly “cage” is made of net and is collapsible, we were concerned about kids being able to smash it without some protection. (And one little guy DID ask his mom if it was okay to squish the butterflies. She responded with a resounding NO!) One of the staff members did have a fish tank they were no longer using, and she donated it to the cause. (Thanks, Jet!) We set up the butterfly cage inside the fish tank. This provided a great “viewing no touching” platform for the kids (and adults). Our kit came with a set of plastic butterfly life cycle pieces which we also kept in the tank and pulled out to let kids touch, organize in order, and play with. Those pieces were a wonderful teaching tool.
- I ordered the caterpillars. They came a few days later, while I was gone. I’d already briefed the staff about what to expect, so they plopped their plastic container right into the cage and set everything out on the desk. The caterpillars come with all the food they need in their plastic container. They stay in there and eat like crazy for about a week, then cocoon onto the top of the container.
- We added a magnifying glass to the display. This was very popular, as well, and we got to sneak in lessons on how to use a magnifying glass (fyi, holding it right next to your eye is NOT the most effective use!)
- The caterpillars ate and grew. We explained and explained. Finally, they hung from the lid in a J, shed their skins for one last time and became chrysalides. One little caterpillar didn’t make it, however. He was smaller and when the others turned, he kept crawling slowly around. After a few days, thinking that we’d set the others up and let the little one die, we took the lid off of the container as the directions said, and turned the lid sideways, setting it upright in a box that had been included for that purpose. The chrysalides bounced and shook like mad, which was a bit freaky, but exactly what we’d been told would happen. The littlest one made his way out of the container to the top of the net cage and began his change. Unfortunately, he only made it part of the way through. After it became obvious to us that he wasn’t going any further, we gently removed him. There was talk of giving him a Viking funeral, but he just got buried. The children didn’t notice his absence, and didn’t really comment on it. We had prepared a little speech about it just in case, and I think we told a few adults about it. None of the public were disturbed, but the staff felt badly about it.
- The chrysalides hung around for about a week. This was fairly boring. We planned our release party.
- The butterflies emerged! They did this on different days, and none of us got to see it happen. It was REALLY fast. Like we would look at the cage to make sure everything was okay, then someone would say something like, “How cool! One of the butterflies emerged!” WHAT??? There were groups of staff who hung around waiting to see the emergence, but never did. We did have a few kids who happened to be there when it happened and got to see it.
- After the butterflies emerge, their wings are shrunken. They pump fluid through their wings, and sometimes you’ll get a red liquid called meconium that comes out. It isn’t blood, but it can stain. After a while their wings are fully developed.
- Two of our staff members were my butterfly wranglers. They tried several things to get the butterflies to eat, and were very concerned that they weren’t eating. We did exactly what the booklet said to do, so I figured the insects would eat when they wanted to. They did discover that the butterflies really loved watermelon when someone left some in the break room and they stuck it in the cage.
- We calendared the release party. It needs to be within about 5 days of the hatching. It was a crazy busy week for us, with events on almost every day. We decided to piggyback on our Earth Day Plant a Seed program. We put up banners and announced it on the website. The PAS program was a drop in one. After it ended, we made a general announcement that we were going to release the butterflies, and I carried them outside. I unzipped the cage, gently gathered one butterfly after another into my hand (this is not an easy process) and held up my hand. Most of them fluttered right away, but one stuck around for a few moments on my hand before taking off.
- The kids came into the storytime room and we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Then we had five stations set up.
- Plant a Seed – we continued to allow children to plant seeds, and they did.
- Fold a paper butterfly
- Color an anatomically labeled picture of a Painted Lady Butterfly (the species we’d raised)
- Toss plastic vegetables at a Very Hungry Caterpillar (picture at end of post).
- Do a butterfly scavenger hunt. This was pictures of butterflies scattered around the children’s room, and a search sheet.
- We continued the scavenger hunt to the end of the month. I cleaned up the cage and stored it for next year. This was a very successful program, and garnered a lot of interest. For next year, we’re hoping to have the tech worked out so that we can provide a live feed so people can watch from home and see the butterflies emerge. We’d love to be able to tape it and then we could watch—even if we can’t see it in person!