Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Caterpillar Investigation, Part 4

In three previous posts (here, here, and here), I described our caterpillar investigation. The caterpillars seemed to suddenly appear on the parsley in our vegetable garden. We started by observing them in the garden and eventually placed two caterpillars in a "butterfly house" to hopefully watch their metamorphosis into butterflies.  We are patiently awaiting some changes. One point I neglected to mention on those previous posts is the fact that this butterfly house in exposed to the cold. It's inside our screened porch so it's protected from severe weather but the temperature is basically the same as outside. I did this because the caterpillars were outside eating our parsley. Presumably, those caterpillars are adapted to the seasons and should, therefore, be left to experience the appropriate weather.

Last Wednesday, we added a new specimen to our butterfly house- a woolly bear caterpillar. I almost crushed the fuzzy little creature while walking through our dining room. Luckily, my husband spotted it and stopped me. Of course, I picked it up and showed our kids.

My daughter was the first to suggest we place it in with the other caterpillars. I was happy to support her investigation, as long as I knew we could keep the caterpillar healthy. Unlike the first caterpillars we found, I did not know how to care for a woolly bear. Even though I've seen them for my entire life, I had never seen one eating or researched their life cycle. I did a quick Internet search to be sure of what to do to care for it. I learned they eat clover or grass and would need a stick on which to climb. The kids gathered the needed supplies and we added the woolly bear to to the butterfly house. We need to add "fresh" grass every day until it stops moving around. Then it will winter over and make a cocoon in the spring. My research revealed that this caterpillar must be allowed to experience the cold or it's life cycle will be disrupted. It will make a cocoon too early and emerge as a moth that cannot survive the cold weather. 

We now have two un-identified caterpillars that made crysalids (photo to left)  in the butterfly house. We think they will emerge as butterflies very soon. (Full disclosure... I know what they are but I haven't told my kids or my readers. Does anyone besides Gail want to suggest what kind they are?) We also have the woolly bear that will eventually spin a cocoon and emerge as a moth in the spring. We check them each day to watch for changes and now we add grass or clover as the woolly bear needs more. We also need to add some pieces of bark or maybe leaves for it to hide beneath.

So, our investigations continue. I'll keep you posted when anything changes. In the meantime, I leave you with this idea. Take baby steps in your investigations with children. Know your limitations. Resist the urge to look up information just to get answers. By observing closely, you and your children (or students) can learn things together. Do find out enough, however, so that you can properly care for any organisms you observe.

Have you embarked on an investigation with your children or students lately? What did you do? What did you learn together? If you haven't done an investigation, how might you begin? Try to make time to to begin one soon.


  1. Hi, Michelle! Will it ruin the fun if I post my guess here? :)

    Let me just say this...in addition to raising Monarchs every summer, once in a while we were lucky enough to find eggs for these guys on Queen Anne's Lace (a parsley relative).


  2. Hmm... are you suggesting that one of Gail's guesses was correct? (That they're not Monarchs but her other suggestion?) What do you think readers? You'll have to look back to see Gail's other idea.