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From creepy-crawly to the Painted Lady

BUTTERFLY GARDEN

School Kit with 30 caterpillars (described here) Pounds 31.45 +VAT. Complete Kit with 5 caterpillars and instructions for rearing Pounds 16.13 plus VAT. Re-order of 5 caterpillars and nutrient Pounds 1.29 +VAT. Insect Lore, Europe, Suite 6 Linford Forum, Linford Wood, Milton Keynes MK14 6LY. Tel: 01908 200794.

Mrs Kelley's Year 4 class was humming with interest as pupils collected butterfly caterpillars in small vials from the back of the room at Emmbrook Junior School, Wokingham, and made their daily "Caterpillar Watch Diary". Each pupil had a caterpillar and was noting down the length of the larva which had arrived 11 days earlier.

On previous days they carefully recorded the number of legs and watched how they moved around eating the food. Today something unusual was happening; some caterpillars were making "webs" and you could see them through the plastic sides, moving their heads back and fore and the fine thread making a dense woven mat.

When the class received its pack through the post the teacher put into each vial enough food for the caterpillar's life cycle. The parcel had contained enough tiny live caterpillars for the children to have their own and some left over (30 caterpillars and 30 vials).

The vials never needed to be opened during caterpillar growth and the children handled them easily and safely. Even the school secretary need not have feared that she would have to handle creepy-crawlies, as the pack was strong and it arrived on time.

Caterpillars grow quickly and the children now had a problem to measure the length as they curved round the vial. The teacher drew together the children's questions which had arisen from 10 minutes of observation. Where was the silk thread for the webs coming from? Why was the caterpillar doing this? Did the caterpillars look different today? How many times had they increased in length in 11 days? Were they growing faster than the bean seedlings?

The kit is supplied from Linford Forum in Milton Keynes by Insect Lore and coincidentally this class was studying Milton Keynes as a new town and could find out from where their butterflies had been dispatched. This posed a problem where did they get them from? The instruction booklet provided did not help, although it gave all the necessary information, concisely, about raising the caterpillars.

Each school day these pupils had spent 20 minutes with their Painted Lady caterpillars and now they were starting to pupate into chrysalises. The children had constructed the Butterfly Garden Box supplied with the kit when it had first arrived and it was ready to receive the completed chrysalises as soon as they fixed themselves to the lids of the vials as inert golden pupae. The children had now seen about half of the development of tiny caterpillar to adult butterfly, as the chrysalis once it forms will take about eight days to emerge as a butterfly. This class will let their adult butterflies free to join the natural breeding population which they hope will lay eggs on the nettles in their newly-constructed conservation area in the school grounds.

The kit was providing excellent opportunities for close observation with hand lenses, recording, and the grouping of the data into a class database. The pupils had decided to make a class Caterpillar Watch Newspaper with their reports and results, so that they could let everyone else in school know how interesting and exciting watching and looking after these beautiful native Painted Lady butterflies had been.

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