"Expose kids to butterflies and show them how colorful and interesting the caterpillars are," suggests Mikula. "What's nice for kids is most caterpillars take only two weeks to come out of the chrysalis. This allows children to see how fast the life cycle works."
Reviewing the life cycle of a butterfly with your child is a natural teaching opportunity. The US Geological Survey's Children's Butterfly Site (www.mesc.usgs.gov) lists the following stages of this insect's metamorphosis:
- Egg: the male and female components join and begin developing
- Caterpillar: the primary eating and growth stage of the insect
- Pupa or Chrysalis: (pronounced KRIS-uh-lis) the resting stages where the caterpillar transforms to an adult butterfly
- Adult: a fully-developed butterfly emerges from the chrysalis
While your family's chance of watching butterflies develop is best if you have an inviting garden with host plants, Mikula says nine out of ten caterpillars will never become butterflies. "They will be eaten, develop parasites, or become infected before they get their wings," he says, adding that females lay many eggs during their lives knowing only some of those eggs with develop into thriving butterflies. Because of these grim statistics, Mikula says to really expose children to butterflies, it's best to go outside with them, bring a caterpillar home and nurture it to become an adult.
Ask your local librarian for good books about butterflies and research these creatures with your kids. Find out your children's questions, and ask a few of your own: How do butterflies communicate? How fast can butterflies fly? Do butterflies sleep? Where does a butterfly go when it rains? How many legs does a caterpillar have?
Once caterpillars and butterflies begin visiting your garden, your family is sure to become captivated with their amazing life cycles and enchanting movements through the air. The Papago Indians had a belief about butterflies, says Mikula. "If you ever want a wish to come true, take a butterfly outside and whisper a wish to it. Since it makes no sound, it won't tell your wish to anyone, but will take a wish to heaven, and the wish will be granted."