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Posts Tagged ‘butterflies’

Despite what “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” would have you believe, the chrysalis of a caterpillar is not a structure that the bug spins or builds around itself. The chrysalis actually forms under the caterpillar’s skin and is revealed during its last shed! Take a look at this eerie transformation; the skin of the caterpillar splits and unzips revealing the hard, smooth skin of the chrysalis underneath.

Before the chrysalis even emerges, the first parts of the butterfly’s wings are already beginning to develop under the caterpillar’s skin. In the next week, most of the caterpillar’s body will literally dissolve and form back into the anatomy of a butterfly.


The word “chrysalis” is derived from the Greek word chrysós meaning gold. The beautiful gold dots surrounding this Monarch Butterfly chrysalis mark points where air enters the casing, but it’s the common crow butterfly’s metallic chrysalis that really lives up to the name!

Check out the leaf-mimic chrysalis of the orange barred sulfur caterpillar. Camouflage serves as a vital defense in this most vulnerable stage of metamorphosis, though some pupas can even twitch, vibrating their entire chrysalis to scare away pestering predators.

If you want your students to experience the life cycle of a butterfly first hand, you can order these kits that come complete with larvae and all the supplies you need to get them to their pupal- or chrysalis- stage.

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Butterflies are endlessly fascinating. When we looked closely at butterflies last week, the kids took note of the delicate and transparent structure of their wings. Butterfly wings are made up of thin layers of a protein called chitin – the same stuff in insect exoskeletons, snake skins, and human fingernails! When a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, its wings are wet and crumpled. The bug hangs upside down and pumps blood into the lattice of veins that run through those thin chitin layers. After their wings fully extend, they must wait for them to dry completely before flying.

Because their wings are so fragile, butterflies can even sense a drop in air pressure, warning them that a storm is approaching. They take shelter to prevent their wings from being weighed down by relatively heavy rain drops. If they do get wet, they’ll have to bask in the sun before they can fly.

Did you know butterflies taste with their feet? They also collect nectar with a long tube-like proboscis that they have to assemble when they emerge from their cocoon. It starts out in two parts with tiny hooks and fringes that they have to work together to form one long straw!

A great way to attract butterflies to your school garden for observation is to plant a butterfly garden. Butterfly bushes, with their bright purple flowers, grow and spread around easily. You can also find butterfly garden seed mixes full of perennial, brightly colored flowers with nice flat petals for these nectar fiends to land on.

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In addition to all the birds we mentioned yesterday, there are numerous plant and animal species here in New York City. One resource for finding out more about each one is the online field guide at eNature called ZipGuides.

You go the ZipGuides website, type in your zip code or region, and up pops a list of birds, butterflies, mammals, reptiles/amphibians, trees, and wildflowers in your neighborhood. So it doesn’t cover every single natural category, but it is quite comprehensive. Here’s what we found near the Brooklyn Children’s Museum:

What species of plants and animals will you find living near you?

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You can, of course, start an herb, vegetable, or other edible garden. But another option is to garden for the purpose of attracting wildlife or to tie gardens into your literacy or math study. Here are some suggestions for interesting garden design concepts:

Try urban gardening for birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a website on gardens that attract birds, including where to garden, which plants birds like, and curricular connections.

A resource from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Or, you could garden to attract butterflies. Check out this website from the University of Kentucky for suggestions on how to create a butterfly friendly garden. Monarch Watch also has butterfly gardening ideas.

What about a literacy garden? Plant a garden to supplement a book your class is reading. For example, the garden at Brooklyn Children’s Museum features a “Rainbow Garden,” with flowers that bloom every color of the rainbow. Our gardener and lead science educator, Greta, designed the garden based on the book Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. Students read the book, see the garden, and get super excited. This book is also available in Spanish, as Cómo plantar un arco iris.

The beginnings of the Rainbow Garden last spring

And don’t forget gardening for math!

Check back next week for information on Greta’s culture gardens…

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Speaking of fall, have you seen any monarch butterflies lately? Monarchs are amazing – they travel as much as 3,000 miles, making them the butterflies with the longest migration in the world and the only butterflies to make a long migration twice each year. Monarch butterflies migrate through New York City on their way to Mexico every fall and come back every spring. Peak season for them passing through New York City is early October, so you may have missed them for this year, but here is some information about monarchs anyway. Keep an eye out as there may still be some around, or wait for spring to see them again!

Monarch Watch is a hub for all things monarch. It has amazing resources, including the following:

Some of these resources may be a little old for early childhood, but the gardening and observation element is ideal for all ages. Butterflies are great for teaching about habitat, insect life cycles, and animal diversity.

Another great website out there is the Monarch Monitoring Project, produced by the New Jersey Audubon Department.  Cape May, NJ is the southernmost point in Jersey. It has well maintained marshes and dunes and is along the coast, so it attracts huge numbers of migratory birds and monarchs, too! The blog is great for upper elementary students. It features bar graphs of monarchs spotted each week during migration season, beautiful photographs, and lots of scientific information.

Do you know other monarch resources? What’s your favorite monarch observation spot in New York City?

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Learn all about teeth and jaws with the Evi'dents case

Brooklyn Children’s Museum offers many opportunities to bring the museum experience into your classroom. You can rent a kit from the museum (with or without an educator) to supplement the curriculum you’re teaching. Each kit comes with an educator’s guide and some amazing objects from Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s collection.

The full list of portable museum cases is available on Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s website. There, you can find information on the 32 different kits, teachers guides you can download, and information on how to order the museum experience.

Two of the most relevant cases for early childhood environmental study are:

  • Urban Naturalist (grades K-5): full of animal and plant specimens native to New York City. Look at a squirrel, examine leaves, and listen to bird calls with this kit. Click here for the full teacher’s guide to get a preview of the case.
  • Butterflies (grades PK-4): Examine 36 different butterfly specimens, see the butterfly life cycle, and learn the difference between a butterfly and a moth. Click here for the full teacher’s guide to get a preview of the case.

Teachers with older students might also be interested in Land Birds of New York or Insects.

Portable collections are a great way to get museum-quality objects inside your classroom. Which kit will you rent?

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