Kids College Science Citizens Butterflies

We are all very excited to be learning about caterpillars and the magical transformation they go through to become butterflies. Our caterpillars will form a chrysalis within two weeks and that the adult butterfly will emerge approximately two weeks later. When they are ready we will release our butterflies. Monarch butterflies are common across Australia and the butterflies may live for many weeks in the wild and may well continue the cycle by pairing and laying eggs.

What we can learn from butterflies

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty – Maya Angelou.

These tiny, fluttering creatures are really teachers in disguise. Here are five bits of life wisdom, inspired by the beautiful butterfly.

Be patient. All good things come with time. We are growing, even when we cannot feel it. With great patience come great rewards.

Be open to change. Be willing to be transformed. Without change, nothing beautiful would happen. You have to give up who you are to become who you might be.

Be light and free. Have some fun. Float from each open door to the next. Look for the colour, humour and joy in daily life.

Be spontaneous. Go wherever your wings take you. Fly forward with confidence. Have the courage to seize new opportunities.

Be in the moment. Look around. Enjoy the flowers, the sun and the breeze. The present moment is a gift for us to enjoy.

Four interesting rules for keeping caterpillars

  • The caterpillars obtain everything that they need from the plants they eat and do not need any water.
  • Caterpillars will grow best in a warm, sheltered position.
  • It is best not to handle the caterpillars as this can cause damage and introduce disease. In case we need to move a caterpillar, we will do so using a tiny paint brush.
  • Caterpillars make a lot of frass (a polite word for insect poo). Cleaning up the frass helps to reduce the chance of disease and we do this by sweeping it up with a tissue or paper towel
  • when the plants are being changed.

Our caterpillars have very healthy appetites

The caterpillars will start eating from the tip of the stem of the plant and will work their way down. How much they eat each day will depend on the stage that they are at, along with how warm their environment is.

As the caterpillars begin to finish one branch, we put the next branch in the enclosure next to the original. The caterpillars will then move across to their new plant when they are ready. We don’t pick the caterpillars off the old plant and put them on the new one as this can cause them damage.

The five stages of Caterpillar development

As the caterpillars grow they go through stages, called instars. Monarch caterpillars go through five instars. At the end of each instar, the skin is shed (and eaten!) and the new growth-stage begins.

The 5th instar caterpillars become eating machines as they gather all the nutrients and energy they need to transform into a butterfly. At the end of this stage, the caterpillars will be about 5cm long and 1cm thick.

From caterpillar to chrysalis

We received 3rd instar caterpillars and the transformation to chrysalis will occur within two weeks of when we got them. When caterpillars are ready to moult, they often wander away from the plant and will stay quite still. When they are ready, the skin will split from around the head and the caterpillar will walk out of its old skin. The caterpillars will climb to the top of the enclosure to form the chrysalis: First they will make a pad of silk, which they will attach

themselves to and then hang upside-down in a ‘J’ shape. It is important that they are not disturbed at this time. When they are ready, their skin will split for the final time, revealing the chrysalis.

From chrysalis to butterfly:

After a few days the outer shell of the chrysalis will harden and change from bright green to emerald green flecked with gold spots.

It may take anywhere from eight days to more than two weeks for the butterfly to emerge. As the butterfly matures, the chrysalis will begin to change colour and get dark. Your butterfly will emerge three or four days after the chrysalis begins to darken.

Butterflies emerge

When the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis it will need to pump blood (fluid) through its wings to expand and dry them. This may take a few hours. It is important that the butterfly is not disturbed or handled during this time.

Once the wings are unfurled and have dried for a few hours, your butterfly is ready to fly.

You may decide to take some time to study it. For the first two days the butterfly does not eat or drink. After

this, your butterfly can be fed with a small amount of sweet liquid on the feeding sticks. You will know that it is feeding when it pokes its proboscis into the sponge. It is also a good idea to lightly mist the enclosure with water from the spray bottle once per day.

When you are ready to release your butterfly, take it to a warm, sheltered place and allow it to climb onto some vegetation, it will take to the wing when it is ready. Monarch butterflies are common across Australia and the butterflies may live for many weeks in the wild and may well continue the cycle by pairing and laying eggs.

Aboriginal Dreamtime story

Birth of the Butterflies

Long ago in the Dreamtime when the world was very young, all the birds and animals spoke the same language. All lived forever – no one ever died so none of the creatures knew about death.

One morning a young cockatoo was playing high up in a tree swinging on a branch when he slipped and fell to the ground landing on his head very hard. The other animals clapped but the cockatoo did not move. They tried to wake him but he just lay there. A wise old wombat looked at the young bird and told the others that he had broken his neck. The animals believed that the spirits had done this so they called a meeting of all the animals under a big old gum tree to discuss this problem.

While they were talking, the Spirits came and took the little cockatoo up into the sky. The animals looked up and saw their friend wafting away into the sky. This puzzled the animals very much. Why had the Spirits taken their friend. Wombat told the animals that the Spirits have taken the Cockatoo up into the sky so they can change him into something else. The animals agreed that someone should go up into the sky and wait and see what the Spirits do with their little Cockatoo friend – but who would do this as it was nearly winter. Wombat asked all the animals but none of them wanted to go except for one. The Caterpillars agreed to go together up into the sky and make camp there for the winter and return in the warmth of spring to tell them what happened to little Cockatoo. In one huge wriggling cloud the Caterpillars went up into the sky and all the other animals went away and waited for spring.

When the winter was nearly over, Wombat called all the animals to search for the caterpillars but they could not find anything. They searched daily but would return with nothing. Then on the first warm day of spring, they saw them. A beautiful parade of brightly coloured wings. The first Butterflies!

The animals realised then that these beautifully coloured creatures were proof that the Spirits had given the Caterpillars a new and beautiful shape and become a new creature and this had happened to their little Cockatoo friend. As the Butterflies settled in the trees, they made such a pretty sight that the old ones decided that this must always be.

So, ever since then, the caterpillars spend winter hidden in cocoons preparing to change into their beautiful spring bodies, just as they did long ago in the Dreamtime.

Michael J Connolly

Munda-gutta Kulliwari

Dreamtime Kullilla-Art

Why are butterflies good for your garden? 

There’s more to butterflies than meets the eye. Find out how they can help the environment – and your veggie patch. You might not like caterpillars eating plants in your garden, but without them we wouldn’t have butterflies.‘So what?’ you ask. Well, butterflies do more for us than just adding colour and beauty to our gardens.

Here’s a few of the ways butterflies help the planet

  1. They pollinate plants in your garden

Butterflies are great for your garden as they are attracted to bright flowers and need to feed on nectar.

When they do this their bodies collect pollen and carry it to other plants. This helps fruits, vegetables and flowers to produce new seeds.

The majority of plants need pollinators like bees and butterflies to reproduce.

Why butterflies are beneficial to the environment

  1. They’re an indicator of a healthy environment

A garden that attracts butterflies will also bring native bees and birds.

They are all really good for the environment and play a role in increasing biodiversity – the variety of plants, animals and micro-organisms and their ecosystems.

Unfortunately for butterflies, they are also an important — though low-level — member of the food chain.

They’re a food source for birds, spiders, lizards, mice and other animals. Caterpillars are also eaten by bats, birds and other animals.

If butterfly populations diminish (or disappear altogether!), the impact will be felt higher up and can affect the entire ecosystem.

Because butterflies are so sensitive to habitat and climate change, scientists are monitoring them as one way of observing the wider effects of habitat fragmentation and climate change.

  1. They make us happy

Naturalist and veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough says spending time in nature – even just watching butterflies in a home garden – is good for our mental health.

‘A few precious moments spent watching a stunning red admiral or peacock butterfly feeding amongst the flowers in my garden never fails to bring me great pleasure,’ he said.

Why butterflies are beneficial to the environment

How we can help protect butterflies

We need butterflies, but it could also be argued that since they’ve been around for millions of years, they deserve to be protected. Here are some ways you can help protect butterflies:

You can help by providing the right habitat for them. Each species’ caterpillars will only eat a specific plant type. In South Australia this includes grasses, sedges, pea flowering plants, bushes and mistletoe. By planting these, you will encourage butterflies to lay caterpillar eggs in your garden.

Try to minimise chemical use in your gardens, as pesticides and chemicals are lethal to all insects, including caterpillars.

Butterflies are fussy eaters and like citrus, snapdragons, crepe myrtle, wattles, tea trees, bottlebrushes, lavender, banksia, daisies and verbena. Include a variety of these nectar- producing plants in your garden to ensure that there is butterfly-friendly food available throughout the year.

Aussie butterfly project

A child’s natural curiosity is their superpower to be amazing mini-scientists. This spring, encourage the wonder of shared discovery by combining a citizen science project and a child’s love of butterflies. It’s a fun, investigative experience for learning, and helps Aussie scientists better understand our environment.

Butterflies Australia is run by the Australian National University and offers a springboard into the magical world of caterpillars and butterflies.

It’s like catching butterflies without a net, and it’s a citizen science project that will engage children with a love of science, hands-on exploration and learning.

All that’s required is a phone for downloading the free app (iOS and Android), and to capture photos of butterfly sightings for recording and uploading. It’s similar to a Where’s Wally discovery approach, except children are outside observing nature as they seek butterflies. All sightings collected are used to provide scientists with crucial information to help protect at-risk species.

What is citizen science?

A citizen scientist project involves everyday adults and children who help collect or analyse data for an active science study or research opportunity. This involvement can help scientists make important discoveries.

Joining in citizen science projects not only teaches scientific thinking, but it can also teach children to care for their world. By asking children to become little scientists and turning the playground or local park into a lab, they get to have a ‘real’ experience with projects that can help contribute to research.

Butterflies Australia: An outdoor learning activity

Butterflies are a fun species to target and children love them. They are active during the day, and often large and brightly coloured, making them easier to spot. They’re also one of our best-known insect species. Involvement in this project helps to create a database of butterfly sightings in Australia. This allows researchers and conservationists to understand more about our butterflies and if they are flourishing or in decline.

Participation requires a nominated educator to download the free phone app (iOS and Android), then take photos of butterflies to record, identify and upload the images. There’s a helpful guide to steer you through the features within the app.

The app includes a free digital field guide with information to help identify species of butterfly found in Australia.

Ask children to notice what the butterflies are doing, what plants they are attracted to and invite their observations. You could even make craft cameras so they can pretend to snap photos themselves or butterfly binoculars for spotting.

Review the images with the children. Next comes the challenge of matching the photo of the discovered butterfly using the apps field guide to complete the identification process. This takes some thoughtful planning.

As the phone screen is small, try printing out the local butterflies you’ve managed to photograph. Let your little scientists compare a printed image of the local butterfly with images from the apps digital field guide. Or to make it more manageable print a few database butterfly images from the app and let the kids match the photographed image to the correct database image from the selection.

Once the butterfly is identified, use the app to record the sighting, upload the information and send. You can encourage family involvement by inviting them to participate in the project and to seek backyard butterflies with their children at home.

A display board could showcase the butterflies found in your area so children can see their contribution and learn about their own natural environment.

Bring the brilliance of butterflies to life

From reading books through to observing the butterfly lifecycle, here are suggestions for fun, learning opportunities.

Install a butterfly science centre using a variety of hands-on and visual materials to showcase the brilliance of butterflies. Colourful photos, a list of butterfly words – such as wings, antennas, caterpillar – magnifying glasses, non-fiction and fiction books, and display a lifecycle poster.

Observe the amazing metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a beautiful monarch butterfly. This allowed us to hatch our own butterflies and then set them free.

Creating a butterfly garden or planting butterfly attracting plants in a sunny spot allows children to get digging, connect with nature and engage their senses and minds. Butterflies love vibrant, lively colour and nectar-rich flowers such as sunflowers, verbena, alyssum, marigold, and Sedum spectabile. Talk to your local nursery about suitable plants for your location.

Reading books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Incorporate a collection of books on caterpillars and butterflies to help children become familiar with the life cycle of the butterfly.

Craft, ask children to observe patterns and colours of butterfly wings and engage them with crafting their own creations.

We even use butterflies to teach social emotional intelligence. Bug is part of our Kimochi set. Bug is a caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly, he has slits under his wings so we can tuck them inside and them pull them out when needed. We use bug to learn about change, growth and potential.

How to get involved in the butterfly project

Welcome to Butterflies Australia! We are a citizen science project that aims to get everybody looking at butterflies and recording their sightings.

We have a free phone app (iOS and Android) and a website that will let you send your sightings to us. The apps also include a free digital field guide, and the website will have a feature that lets you explore the butterfly data in a number of ways on a handy map.

We have lots of ideas we are keen to put out there for you. Check out the Fact Sheet section for handy information on how to identify butterflies, how to use the apps, and many other things. Keep an eye on this news section for details on workshops we are running around the country for a chance to hear from the project team about butterflies, and how you can get involved. You can keep up with the latest information in our Facebook group as well.

We are excited to share our enthusiasm about Australia’s amazing butterflies with you, so download the app and get recording!

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Teacher Jen and the Kids College Childcare family