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Posts Tagged ‘ecology’

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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If you’ve ever explored the greenhouse at Brooklyn Children’s Museum, you may have spotted our most elusive creatures, the walking sticks. Then again, they’re easy to miss! These bugs are masters of camouflage, and their bizarre traits don’t stop there. We delved into the strange world of stick and leaf mimics in our “Phantastic Phasmids” program and here are a few surprising facts we learned about the order of insects Phasmatodea .

Creepy Cloning

Most phasmids are females, and if a male mate is not readily available , the females have the ability to produce clones, an animal phenomenon called parthenogenesis. They lay hundreds of eggs containing exact female replicas of themselves!

One…Two…Three Times a Mimic.

Stick bugs share a special mutualistic relationship with ants. Ants love to feed their \ larvae the special nutrient-rich part of a seed called the elaiosome. After they’ve fed their young, they dispose of the seed in an environment perfect for germination. The stick bug eggs mimic the look of a seed, complete with a fatty cap like a seed’s elaiosome. By imitating the crux of the mutualistic relationship between ants and seeds, the stick bug gains a safe anthill home for its eggs to hatch and thrive while the ants still benefit from the nutrients of that expendable knob on the stick bug’s egg. What an opportunist — the phasmid piggy-backs on an already beautifully established mutually beneficial relationship between plants and ants!

And get this — when the egg first hatches inside the anthill, it even resembles an ant! The stick bug ant-mimic crawls out of the anthill to its safe habitat in the trees.

Our visitors love having these alien creatures walk across their hands. Sometimes their uncanny resemblance to sticks doesn’t really strike the kids until they’re able to get an up-close view of their long branchy legs.

One fun activity to try with your students is to make a phasmid collage. Have the kids go outside and collect a few sticks and leaves that have fallen from trees or other plants. When you get back to the classroom, use glue to compose a phasmid that would remain expertly hidden from any predators seeking a buggy snack. We used these leaf and stick bug templates to get the kids started with their collages.  Email us at gogreen [at] brooklynkids.org if you would like a copy of these templates for your classroom.

Learn more about phasmids and see some cool walking stick videos at our sister blog Brooklyn Greenhouse.

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Did you know that the largest snake in New York lives at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum? Fantasia, a 245 lbs albino Burmese python, is always on view to the public in our Science Inquiry Center. Unless someone is hiding a mammoth snake in their bathtub (not a good idea!), Fantasia is the biggest!

There’s no more visceral way to introduce students to the concept of predation than to visit during a Fantasia Feeding Frenzy. Every other Thursday, crowds gather to see Fantasia presented with her prey on long forceps. Her tongue starts to flick, picking up the scent of her recently deceased food, and then she strikes! Check out this video of Fantasia striking at a chicken.

Of course, captive Fantasia doesn’t really have to do the work of preying on her food, but she quickly coils her constricting body over the chicken nonetheless. She’s overcome with the instinct to quickly hide and protect her food from any other potential predators looking to steal it away. Their lack of arms and legs make snakes fairly vulnerable during meal time.

This video shows Fantasia taking the final gulp of a four guinea pig meal. You can really spot her unhinged jaw and strong neck muscles pulling her furry treat down her trachea. Though Fantasia’s size makes her seem like she’s at the very top of the food chain, she’s really far from it. In the wild, Fantasia’s bright yellow color would have probably made her prey to a predatory bird or other beast as a small snake.

Try this fun outdoor Predator vs. Prey game with your kids.

  • One or two kids are assigned to be the predators. They are essentially “it”. Remind kids that there are always fewer predator animals in the wild since they’re at the top of the food chain and require the most energy!
  • Assign the rest of the kids to be prey. Have them stand inside several hula hoops bases spread out on the ground where they are safely hidden from predators and can’t be tagged.
  • Prey animals must leave their hula hoops to collect food — at least three items!  Gather some props to stand in for the prey animal’s food sources — some paper leaves or plastic bugs like these would be perfect!
  • Each round will last a few minutes and the prey that collects three food items without being “consumed” by predators wins!

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Earth day is this Sunday! The Brooklyn Children’s Museum will be exploring the outdoors by taking a close look at seeds and how they get around. It’s a little early in the season to experience the full range of seed dispersal methods outside but if you take your class on a nature walk, you may encounter:

Giant clumps of Elm Tree seeds covering the ground.

Big white poufs of dandelions.

The beginnings of cherry tree fruits.

Can your students guess how the seeds they encounter get around? Do they flutter to the ground or float on a breeze? Will an animal eat them, bury them, or shake them off their fur? Could they bob down a river or on an ocean currant (bring in a coconut as a great example of a floating seed!)?

“Baby seeds” need to get away from the parent plant to begin growing. They need their own supply of space, nutrients, water, and sunshine. The shady soil directly under a tree is not ideal.

On Sunday, we’ll be making our own paper seed dispersal mechanisms based on the awesome helicopter-like Maple Tree samaras. How far will they fly?

Your class could also collect the seeds they find outside, pot them up, and see if they begin to grow!

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Are you looking for ways to re-invigorate your teaching? There are lots of great options for professional development this winter! Check out these workshops that will help you add a sustainable focus to your classroom:

Environmental Explorations NYC at Van Cortlandt Park

This program uses hands-on activities to bring NYC’s local outdoor resources and nature into the classroom and enhance classroom learning. Materials covered include Project WILD, Project WET, Project Learning Tree and more, in addition to introducing teachers to local environmental resources. Teachers will be provided with new strategies for introducing environmental topics in connection with math, literacy, and art, fostering student leadership and developing higher order thinking skills.

The program is from February 20 to February 25, 2012. To register, visit the After School Professional Development’s website at http://schools.nyc.gov/Teachers/aspdp and view their spring course catalog. With questions, contact Sara Kempton, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, 718-601-1553 or sara@vancortlandt.org.

Creative Infusion: The Art of Reuse at Materials for the Arts

Materials for the Arts is an amazing warehouse of art supplies in Queens. This course, which offers P-credits, gives you access to the warehouse and teaches you how to problem solve through reuse and how to create games, books, costumes and sets, puppets, and mosaics. The course incorporates literacy and math into activities. The program takes place over 6 Saturdays. For details and information about registration and fees, check out their website.

Other opportunities:

Do you know of any other great professional development for teachers in New York City?

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Sounds like fun, right?

If you’re interested in recycling field trips, students cannot currently visit any of the recycling centers in New York City. However, the new recycling facility at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, due to open in late 2012 or early 2013, will include an education center where students can see the recycling process. For updates on the project, check out the Department of Sanitation’s page A Material Recovery Facility Grows in Brooklyn.

In addition, the Department of Sanitation also has a website that explains in words and pictures the process of recycling. You can use this information until the center in Sunset Park opens.

Fresh Kills then...

A field trip to a landfill might sound even less appealing. Consider instead a visit to Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island on the site of the former Fresh Kills Landfill, which when was once the largest landfill in the world. The new park was created by covering the landfill. Education programs offered at Fresh Kills Park focus on both its past as a waste disposal facility and its current ecological and sustainable use.

... and now.

Check out the City of New York Parks & Recreation’s website for more information. If you’re interested in visiting, email FreshkillsPark@parks.nyc.gov or call 212-788-8277 to arrange a personalized educational experience.

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