Monday, September 7, 2009

New Experiences in Nature Study

This term in school we are studying insects as suggested in the Ambleside Online rotation. Initially I had planned on using Apologia's "Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day" but felt that it was a bit too much to handle for me as a teacher this year. Instead I downloaded Barb's "Outdoor Hour Challenges" for insects and plan on using them. I also spent some time reading portions of the Handbook of Nature Study to familiarize myself with what insects we should look out for and some places to find them.
As I was browsing through the butterfly section I read how you could find Monarch Caterpillars on milkweed plants especially in the month of September, so on Monday, our nature study day, we walked to the end of our block where I knew there were several uncut milkweed plants. It took us a bit of looking and poking around but just before we were ready to give up we spotted a caterpillar sitting on a leaf.

The kids quickly ran back home and got a jar and some scissors so that we could take it home. Luckily I thought to grab an extra top from another milkweed plant to stick in the big jar at home because this would come in handy very soon.
We brought "stripey" home, put him and a couple stalks of milkweed into a gallon size glass jar, spread some cheesecloth across the top and then waited.....and waited......and waited.
I thought we had killed him somehow when after 24 hours he hadn't so much as moved a muscle, but lo and behold he was in the process of shedding skin. We were able to observe the tail-end of it and then stood in amazement over the next few days as we watched this little caterpillar eat, and eat, and eat and eat.
The boys would try to race the caterpillar at supper time to see if they could eat as much as fast as the caterpillar did; my husband and I would laugh as we watched it's little head tick back and forth while it ate reminding us of a typewriter and my girls got completely grossed out as the bottom of the jar filled with caterpillar droppings!
Once everyday I would boil some water on the stove to add some humidity to the air (not that it was needed much) because we were instructed not to let the air get too dry. We also replenished the food supply a couple of times and cleaned out the droppings as well.
On Saturday I took it out to clean the jar and add fresh milkweed but noticed that the caterpillar was hanging upside down and it's back-end was attached to the stem. I decided to leave it and just see what would happen. Sure enough later on it let go of the stem and just hung so I assumed that it would be changing into a chrysalis soon.
We missed the transformation because it happened while we were at church but you can see how it happens here.

Can you imagine the excitement when we came home and saw no longer a two inch upside down caterpillar but a tiny little jade chrysalis?

Now we wait. According to HNS it will take about 12 days to mature into a butterfly, but the changes to the chrysalis each day are absolutely amazing!

"The monarch chrysalis is, I maintain, the most beautiful gem in Nature's jewel csket; it is an oblong jewel of jade, darker at the upper end and shading to the most exquisite whitish green below; outlining this lower paler portion are shining flecks of gold."
HNS page 307-308


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