Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DIY: Butterfly Life Cycle Observation Station

In Michigan, it is the time of year for caterpillars and butterflies again! My children absolutely love observing and documenting the butterfly life cycle. This little guy  is just a couple of days old and is "munching and crunching" away. (The photo was taken with our Zoomy handheld digital microscope. He is quite tiny, but with the aid of the microscope, we are able to watch him munch and crunch!)

As those of you who know me know, I am not a fan of butterfly kits. If it is your only option, then they are better than nothing, but teaching children about butterflies native to your area and finding eggs is far more educational and memorable for the children.

We make our own butterfly life cycle observation stations, and I thought I would share a few tips with you.
First you will need:
A plastic tote or other suitable container. (I like to use the 12 qt containers because they are big enough, but also very lightweight and easy to transport. They are also called sweater boxes in some stores).

Window screen

Duct tape (I chose white to blend in with the white cover of my box, but you can use any kind.)

Kitchen Shears or other cutting implement.

Cut out the center of your tote lid. I used the Sterlite brand and they have a great shape outline ready for you to cut out. I use kitchen shears to cut mine out, however at the training I presented last night it was recommended that perhaps a utility knife might work better for some folks, drilling a hole to get you started is also helpful. Your cutting need not be perfect, you just need to make sure to create a large area for viewing and attaching the screen to.
Cut a piece of screen just big enough to lay over the top of the hole in the lid.  Then use your duct tape to secure the screen to the top of the lid.

I made sure to measure out the tape so that it was long enough to run the full length of the side. I used one piece of tape for each side. (4 pieces of tape) You can use as many as you want, just as long as you cover the entire perimeter of the screen with tape and secure it tightly to the lid.

I know it is hard to see in this photo, but the hole has a screen over it, and the duct tape holds it securely in place all the way around. (I like how the white tape blends in, that is why I chose white.) The screen is important to allow air circulation into the tote and it is what the caterpillars will attach to when they are ready to make a chrysalis. In the past, I have taped the screen on the inside of the tote, but I have found that the caterpillars tend to attach to the duct tape when you do that!

Place the lid on top of the tote and voila! You have your very own butterfly life cycle observation station!

If you remember the giant magnifying glasses I showed you awhile back.... they work perfect to place on top. If you do not have a giant one, the smaller ones will work great for children to observe as well. (We do not keep the magnifying glass on the top all of the time, only when we are using it to observe.)

We have been digging in our milkweed patch, and have found 8 eggs! (7 of which have already hatched into monarch caterpillars.)  Here are a few photos we took with our Zoomy:
This little guy is just a day or so old and is crawling toward some frass (or caterpillar "poop.")
Here is a tiny little egg sitting on the leaf.
 Here is a newly hatched caterpillar. You can see that this one has not yet grown into its stripes! It is light gray with a black head. As they grow, monarch caterpillars have stripes of white, black, and yellow.
Here is another close up of the frass.

Just to give you an indication of how cool this microscope is... Here are some regular photos:
 This leaf has the caterpillar with the small dot of frass on it.
This leaf has an egg and a freshly hatched caterpillar on it.

Tomorrow, we are going to go on a hunt for more caterpillars and eggs. I'll make sure to remember the camera so that we can teach you all how to find your own monarch eggs and caterpillars! Last year, we spent months observing our little monarch friends. If you search the archives, you will find oodles of extension activities!


Ticia said...

I need to see if milkweed grows in Texas because I'd love to have some monarchs grow and hatch here.

Candace @Naturally Educational said...

Too cool! I just posted today about our butterflies...I hope you'll come check it out. We bought our habitat and Painted Lady caterpillars, though. So, I'm super-impressed with your home-made habitat and backyard collection of specimens!

We have planted butterfly-friendly plants in our garden but don't have many egg-host plants...maybe next year we'll be more DIY.

Make sure to add this post to our "Backyard Science" week linky on Friday!

Deanna said...

what brand is that magnifying glass please?

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

The giant magnifying glasses are from Backyard Safari

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