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Our butterfly project

In July, the world is in bloom. Midsummer fields are speckled with wildflowers and abuzz with insects and birds enjoying the sweet nectar. Eager to celebrate this bounty of color and sound, my kids and I ordered a butterfly kit to hatch Painted Lady butterflies. (Our kit came from Insect Lore, which offers other creature kits, including ladybugs and ants).

We received two cups with five caterpillars each. We watched as the caterpillars molted and produced little webs and frass (the fancy name for butterfly poop). After about two weeks, the caterpillars found their way to the tops of the containers, attached themselves to the fuzzy inside, and became chrysalides. We measured them daily and made observations in a designated butterfly notebook. We put the chrysalides in our netted habitat and waited. Some days, when we walked by, they vibrated, as if they were excited that we were checking on them. Eventually, a couple of weeks later, one of the chrysalides cracked open (as we were watching!), and out emerged a wrinkled, wet Painted Lady.

You might think the reality couldn’t live up to the hype, but it was quite the opposite. I was in awe at how fascinating it was. We put some nectar on a sponge inside the habitat and watched the newly emerged butterfly furl and unfurl its two tongues until they fused together to form a tube-like proboscis.

Each day another one or two butterflies would emerge until we had a flittering tower of butterflies in our house. Of course, we read every book about butterflies that we could get our hands on.

One great book we read was Melissa Kim’s A Monarch Butterfly Story. This is a board book intended for grades preK to 2. The story follows a little boy who teaches his class about threats to Monarchs. The kids plant a butterfly garden to create a new habitat for them. Kim follows the life cycle in a simple way; Jada Fitch’s illustrations help readers understand what’s happening in the text.

Another favorite was Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices (2013, Holt) written by Carole Gerber and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. These whimsical observations are fun to read aloud. We read selections with our nature playgroup while making butterfly feeders from plastic plates and playing a nectar game by suctioning a blueberry at the end of a straw and trying to move it from one bowl to the next. (You can read more about our butterfly day here.)

Finally, the day came for us to set our butterflies free (a bit later than we’d hoped since we had to wait for a day over fifty degrees, which was a rarity in Maine earlier this summer). We held our butterflies in our hands and watched them fly off into our butterfly garden. We’ve seen lots of painted ladies in the past several weeks and like to think that they are ours.

Books mentioned

A Monarch Butterfly Story written by Melissa Kim and illustrated by Jada Fitch (2017, Islandport Press)

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices, written by Carole Gerber and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (2013, Holt)

Visit Susan’s blog for more of her thoughts about these and other nature-themed picture books.

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Susan Olcott About Susan Olcott

Susan Olcott lives in Maine with her husband and six-year old twin girls. She's played on lobster boats while getting her M.S. in Marine Science, designed and led snorkeling and kayaking tours in San Diego for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium, taken kids on bike tours in Europe and the U.S., and taught biology to military personnel in Sardinia, Italy.

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