Saturday, May 7, 2011

Making a Butterfly Net is Easy, Science is Hard.

The children, and I (mainly I), spent a great deal of time trying to identify the caterpillar they found, this week.

First off, they wanted to keep it in a jar, and bring it into the house...

...which meant I wanted to be sure it really was a caterpillar - you know, that would turn into something as sweet as a butterfly, or a moth. After checking out this diagram...

...and a very detailed checklist from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, I felt reassured, that we did, indeed, have a caterpillar, though I still wasn't sure what sort of butterfly, or moth it would turn into.

After a couple of days in the jar, the little fellow wasn't looking so good, so we decided we weren't feeding him the right foods, and released him back into the yard. D kept an eye on him for a couple more days, happy to see he was doing better, until he finally wandered out of sight.

We continued using the pictures we took of the caterpillar, to try to identify it, but without too much luck - there are a lot of different types of caterpillars.

D noticed a number of small white butterflies in the neighborhood, and thought maybe that's what his caterpillar would become. I'd heard an elderly neighbor calling them cabbage butterflies, so I looked that up. Cabbage white butterflies have small black spots on their wings. The butterflies we were seeing were moving so fast, it was hard to tell if they had spots or not.

The girls offered to catch one for me to check out, if I would make them a butterfly net. So, I twisted together a couple of pipe cleaners...

...punched two holes in the top of an empty plastic wrap tube (you save those, don't you?)...

...threaded the pipe cleaners through the holes....

...and then wove the loose ends back and forth through the folded over, open end, of a mesh bag, that used to hold grapes, and back around each other, to close the loop.

Ta-da! A butterfly net - not a very good one mind you, but these butterflies are fast moving little things, and I really didn't expect the girls to be able to catch any.

But, going on a butterfly hunt, gave them a chance to get outside, for a walk.

And, while they were gone I managed to snap one (just one, out of the fifty I attempted), close enough shot, to see that there could be black spots on the butterfly's wings. You can't really see it here, but trust me, it has black spots.

However, the cabbage white caterpillar looks nothing like our caterpillar, so really we're back to square one. Or, almost square one, because while I was doing all the caterpillar research, I came across the Butterflies and Moths of North America site, where you can submit a photograph of a caterpillar, and possibly receive help with identifying it.

I quickly registered on the site, and submitted our photo, and decided to leave the rest in the hands of the experts. But, I have to say, the whole thing has left me feeling a bit like Meriwether Lewis, who according to a quote from Francis Hunter's American Heroes Blog, wrote on his 31st birthday,

"...I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the happiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existance, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself."

And, when you consider, he wrote that in the middle of his Corp. of Discovery, journey across the country, that thought might really be depressing, except for a saving, and much happier quote from American physicist, Richard Feynman,

"You can know the name of a bird (or caterpillar, or butterfly) in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird (or caterpillar, or butterfly)... So let's look at the bird (or caterpillar, or butterfly) and see what it's doing — that's what counts"

That, I can handle.

For more concrete, and less rambling thoughts on science for children, be sure to check out this week's Science Sunday link-up, at Adventures in Mommydom.

It's great to be a homeschooler.


Ticia said...

That would imply I use enough Saran Wrap to actually empty one. I think we've had one empty one maybe........ in the time we've lived here.

But, I bet I could use something else to make that. The kids would love it.

Chrissi said...

This doesn't look like a caterpillar at all. It looks like an adult grub. They're a menace to pretty lawns here in the country. We count ourselves lucky when the skunks dig them up and save our yards for us. =D

And it wouldn't have been fairing well in a jar because it prefers living in soil like an earthworm and in the dark.

Chrissi, Cyber School Mom

Kendra said...

Generally, cabbage butterflies feed off cabbage plants growing in the gardens and, they also enjoy feeding off plants in the cabbage family. Most avid gardeners consider the caterpillar to be a pest because it can eat through a garden in record time!

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Chrissi - That's why we checked the diagram. Ours had prolegs on the right sections, real legs, jaws, and all other necessaries for a caterpillar. My best guess was something like an Army Cutworm Caterpillar - still not good news for the garden, but at least it turns into a moth :)

MaryAnne said...

LOVE the Feynman quote!

Susan said...

Very nifty butterfly net! Love it :)
Isn't it the most frustrating thing when you can't identify something?

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

I like this last quote. The name is not everything - it's observation that counts. I am curious to see if you will be able to identify your caterpillar.