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Posts Tagged ‘insects’

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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If you’re interested in doing a whole unit on insects, you will need some books. Here are some kid friendly suggestions (with a bonus for any teachers with Spanish-speaking students; many of the book suggested are available in English and Spanish):

Insects by Barbara Taylor is a great resource for students who want to learn more about insects. It comprehensively covers most introductory questions students will want to know about insects. In addition, this book is available in Spanish as Insectos.

The Beetle Alphabet by Jerry Pallota uses the many kinds of beetles to teach the entire alphabet. Drawings are very detailed and help students see just how many different kids of beetles are out there. The reading level is 2nd-3rd grade, but the alphabet and drawings could be used with younger students as well.

Jerry Pallota has a number of other books, including counting books that use insects. These are available in English and Spanish: in English, there’s Icky Bug Numbers 1 2 3 and in Spanish, there’s Cuenta los insectos.

The Magic School Bus Inside a Beehive by Joanna Cole focuses in on bees – demystifying these often scary creatures and helping kids learn about bee life. The book is written for 3rd grade reading level, but kids of all ages will draw information from it.

Then, of course, there’s the DK Eyewitness book Insect by Laurence Mound. Like all DK Eyewitness books, this one will answer almost every question a student will have and serves as a great reference for insect research. If you can get your hands on the most recent edition, it comes with a clip-art CD, providing you with you with lots of reference material. And, it’s also available in Spanish: Insectos.

Finally, don’t forget our earlier suggestion of a kid-friendly field guide like the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America by Arthur Evans.

Do you have any other favorite insect books?

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You probably already teach about animals and their habitats – why should you teach about insects in particular?

Insects and other small animals are a key part in any food chain, a subject your students will study in 4th grade science. Knowing about them and having respect for insects now will help them better appreciate insects’ importance later.

If you are interested in a great game that combines food chains with human impact on the environment, check out the game Deadly Links in an educational guide produced by the Girl Scouts (scroll to page 18). This role play examines the relationship between three animals (mosquito, fish, eagle) and what happens when human beings try to get rid of the mosquitoes. Deadly Links is appropriate for grades 4+ in its current form, but could easily be adapted for younger students.

Little kids might not be ready to learn about food chains, but they're always welcome to come to Brooklyn Children's Museum and build an insect of their own!

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Build a Bug

It’s quite easy to make a realistic insect in your classroom, including all the parts an insect should have.

Materials: egg cartons pre-cut, pipe cleaners, paint and paintbrushes, googly eyes (optional)

This little girl is working on her insect in a public program at Brooklyn Children’s Museum. As you can see, we cut egg cartons down to three-segment size (triple wide egg cartons divide perfectly). Each kid received the pre-segmented body, representing the head, thorax, and abdomen. To the head, she attached eyes and two antennas. Right now, she is painting her insect however she likes. The final step will be attaching 6 pipe cleaners for legs to the middle segment – the thorax. Pipe cleaners are ideal because they actually bend, just like the jointed legs of an insect. If you choose to attach wings, they would also go on the thorax. Finally, the egg carton is strong and tough enough to almost count as an exoskeleton.

Try it out in your classroom! We would love to see the bugs your students make – email them to us, gogreen@brooklynkids.org.

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You’ve already learned about the parts of arthropods and the parts of insects. How will your students remember all those new words? A song will help! Sing this one to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”:

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Jointed legs and exoskeleton

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Have them do gestures at the same time to reinforce what the terms mean. Tap your head. Since a thorax is where the insects’ legs attach, hold up three fingers on each hand, place them in front of your chest and wave them like legs. For abdomen, rub your tummy. To show jointed legs, bend and flex your legs. And, finally, for exoskeleton, make your hands into fists and rap them on the opposite arm to demonstrate a hard exterior.

This song works well with all ages, from Pre-K to high school biology (even if you might get some rolled eyes with the big kids). We hope your students enjoy it! Check back tomorrow for an insect-making art activity.

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