For the past few weeks, First Grade has been learning about entomology, the branch of zoology concerned with the study of insects, by raising butterflies in their classroom. They started upon returning from Spring Break, when Wendy Genzel, first grade teacher, surprised the class with two milkweed plants which caterpillars eat and butterflies had laid their eggs on.
The students noticed that one plant had a caterpillar on it, and when they looked closely they began to observe tiny eggs on some of the leaves. Gradually they noted that more and more baby caterpillars would show up each day.
“They were so small that the children ended up finding them where they would notice holes being eaten in the leaves,” said Mrs. Genzel. Each time the students observed major changes, they would write in their Entomologist Observation Journals
After the first weekend, the caterpillars had doubled in size and one had turned into a chrysalis, a butterfly pupa that is enclosed in a hardened protective case. The students had their hopes set on catching one hanging upside down in order to make a “j”. “This is when it begins to form a chrysalis,” explained Mrs. Genzel. “They wanted to view this process in action.”
After the second weekend, the students walked in and were amazed to see seven chrysalises and one caterpillar hanging in a “j”. “After the class had started their morning work, Luka Vaughn went to get something out of his cubby (which was right next to the butterfly habitat) and shouted, ‘It’s happening!’” Wendy said. All of the children went running over to the cage where they were all able to view the amazing process of the chrysalis forming.
“I have to admit,” said Mrs. Genzel, “every year when I watch this with the children, I am once again just as amazed as they are at this magical transformation.”
On Wednesday, April 5, the students noticed that the first chrysalis that had formed had turned black. Sure enough, an hour later they were able to watch the final metamorphosis. Later that day the first grade students carefully held their first butterfly before setting it free at the Lower School.
“They were tickled to find it later in the tree where they had left it to enjoy the sun and dry out its wings in preparation for flight,” said Mrs. Genzel who explained this takes a few hours.
“They were sad to see it fly away, but understand it is ready and will start the entire life cycle all over again. Now they are eagerly awaiting their next miraculous metamorphosis (a word they will gladly be able to spell for you)!”