Look at that! Our Painted Lady butterfly eggs, those tiny glowing jewels, actually hatched into teeny teeny caterpillars! The leaves of the plant I dug out of the compost, common mallow, were absolutely covered with caterpillars. We looked at caterpillars under the microscope, we looked at the leaves they were devouring under the microscope, and we compared human, dog, and cat hairs while we had the microscope handy. We released a few leaves full of caterpillars into the garden. Two days later we couldn't see a single one, search though we might. Hmm.
Of the caterpillars and their leaves, I wrote "were" devouring instead of "are." Our Painted Lady project met with a disaster. A four-footed, black-tailed, very naughty disaster of a puppy. The caterpillars really were devouring the leaves and needed a new host plant, so I dug up a thistle-y-looking plant, and another mallow so that we'd have a host plant known to be friendly just in case they hated our experimental plant. In the process we set free two more leaves full of caterpillars in the back corner of the garden. Unfortunately, lunchtime was looming, and the butterfly enclosure, now filled with plants and caterpillars, and the puppy were left outside. There was nothing left of our caterpillar project but a torn and very dirty butterfly enclosure.
There's always a silver lining, though. Not only did we learn that Poppy can jump up to reach things set smack in the middle of the table, we learned what probably happened to the first set of caterpillars. Ants. Remember, we'd just put more caterpillars in the garden. After picking up the mess I planted another mallow, then we went to salvage some of the caterpillars we'd just put in the garden. The plants we'd left them on were covered with ants. At first we didn't spot a single caterpillar, but suddenly we spied one on the underside of a leaf with three ants surrounding it. Aha! A real-life answer to kindergarten gent's question, "If they can make this many caterpillars, then why isn't the world covered in butterflies?" Ants is why. Fine young gent and I brainstormed about other predators which might think a caterpillar would make a delicious lunch.
Between the few caterpillars we were able to save, a leaf with some unhatched eggs, and a few random caterpillars still crawling on the outside table, we may have managed to save the project from utter ruin, but only time will tell.
More insect fun:
Insect Investigations. PreK-2 insect lessons at Home Science Tools.
For middle schoolers, check out Adopt-an-Insect lessons and activities at The Science Spot. Includes insect collecting instructions, puzzles, quizzes, and instructions for several insect-related lessons and projects.
A very detailed Painted Lady and Luna Moth study from Earth's Birthday. Includes butterfly and moth study and comparison, butterfly journals, butterfly and moth anatomy and vocabulary, crafts, outdoor activity ideas, worksheets, links, and extension activities.
Up for some general nature fun? Also from Home Science Tools, a nature scavenger hunt. I can't wait to try this with the ladies and gents.