A few weeks ago we were visiting my parents when one of the kids came across a caterpillar. My niece got a ventilated jar for the kids, filled it with some foliage and twigs, and deposited the caterpillar inside. I didn’t even know we were taking it home until we got in the van and voila–there was an insect in a jar!
I set it on the bookshelf in the dining room and within a couple of days I noticed that the caterpillar had made itself a nice, silky little nest between two leaves. I had no idea if a butterfly or moth would come out. We left the jar alone so that the mystery insect could do its thing.
Until one night, right before bed, when I noticed that there was a moth sitting in the jar! It worked! I was concerned about the viability of the moth, hoping it would survive until we could let it out the next day.
After breakfast the kids and I took the jar outside, extricated the foliage and sticks, and coaxed the moth out onto a paper towel.
We spent probably the next hour just watching our moth sit, flutter its wings, walk around, and generally get accustomed to life outside of a jar. We got a portion of the paper towel wet so it could drink some water. (If I’d been drying out in a cocoon for an extended period of time, I imagine I would get a bit thirsty, too.) We watched it use its tongue to sop up some water. After a while we went back inside and would poke our heads out to check about every ten minutes. The moth sat there for quite some time, until over an hour later, when it finally decided to fly away.
This was a great experience for us and was a wonderfully hands-on way of learning about insects.
I kid you not, when we noticed that the moth had finally flown away, there was another (different) caterpillar on the steps. Whereas the first one had been smooth and light green, this one was furry and yellow. I quickly cleaned out the jar, stocked it with new foliage, and caught the caterpillar. We had another mystery caterpillar to house until it could develop into an adult.
This one took exactly one day to start building its cocoon, this time sort of wedged into the bottom near sticks and leaves. It looked like a combination of silk and tiny brown foliage fragments, with some of the yellow hairs poking out. The kids wanted to know if it was a moth or butterfly, so we did an Internet search. We believe what we have is a either a Spotted Apatelodes (moth) or a Banded Tussock Moth. I’m so curious to see this one when it emerges!
Why not have fun observing your local insects with your kids? This is an extremely low-cost and interesting way to incorporate science into your schooling!