One of my favourite times of year as a teacher was springtime when we had a butterfly house in the classroom and watched the tiny caterpillars strip the plants of their leaves as they grew bigger and bigger on their journey to becoming butterflies. It was an almost magical experience to watch the caterpillars pupate and then, days later, emerge from their chrysalises as butterflies. I never tired of watching it and I was lucky to see it year after year while the children only got to see it when they were with me. (Though many came back to visit in following years, still mesmerised by the process.)
I am fascinated by metamorphosis. I view it as a hopeful process and consider it an analogy for our own ability to make change in our lives. It is also often used as an analogy for a transition that may occur, according to one’s belief, after death.
I often wonder what life must be like for the caterpillar, what occurs during metamorphosis, and the delight that must be felt when emerging as a butterfly. I have written many previous posts and flash fictions featuring butterflies but, as I said, I never tire of it. I hope you don’t either. Here’s my response to Charli’s prompt.
One day followed another — everyone in uniform, head down, following unwritten rules known by heart. Only Olive questioned, “Why?” She longed for adventure. Blue skies whispered promises on gentle breezes that rustled leaves and tantalised with sweet exotic perfumes. Her tastebuds rebelled. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, take another bite. She crawled into a shell and hoped to sleep for ever. Kaleidoscopic dreams flitted in a mash of memories and futuristic movie scenes. What was real and what imagined? She awoke renewed, seeing the world as if from other eyes. She unfurled her wings and flew to kiss the welcoming skies.
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Charli is a collector of stones and I love butterflies. I don’t collect them, but I welcome them into my garden, and one of my favourite things of the year while teaching was having a butterfly house in the classroom.
We would acquire some butterfly eggs or just-hatched caterpillars, watch them grow and pupate, wait while they metamorphosed, and gaze in wonder as they emerged and prepared for flight.
The children and I enjoyed the experience so much, I gave my granddaughter a butterfly house for her birthday one year and re-filled it for her on successive years. It was enjoyed by all the family.
I have written about our classroom butterfly experience many times, both here and at readilearn where minibeasts (including butterflies) are star attractions. Some of those posts include:
Which brings me to this week’s story linking butterflies and stones. I hope you enjoy it.
A Butterfly Promise
Jack scrambled over the rocks to their favourite place for discussing the wonders of the universe and the meaning of life. And death. He took Grandma’s special stone from his pocket, turned it this way and that in the sunlight, and admired its iridescence. ‘Like butterfly wings. Like life.’ Grandma said she’d come back as a butterfly, if she could.
‘You shouldn’t have left me, Grandma!’ Jack didn’t try to stop his tears. He blinked when a beautiful butterfly alighted on the stone, tickled his nose and circled his head before fluttering away. ‘Grandma!’ called Jack. ‘You came back!’
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It’s almost spring here in the Southern Hemisphere. The garden is dressing up in blooms of many colours and filling the yard with the sweet scents of wattle, jasmine and other flowers. Bees busily collect the pollen, butterflies flutter from one flower to another, the butcherbirds sing joyously from the treetops, while the cockatoos noisily crack the wattle pods and prune the tree.
Things are starting to feel fresh and new again and encouraging me to emerge from my recent writerly hibernation. While, for the previous six years I’d hardly missed responding to a weekly flash fiction challenge at the Carrot Ranch, I’ve not joined in for the past few months due to the demands of other work responsibilities. I finished that work a couple of weeks ago but have found it difficult to shake off the cobwebs and give creativity some air again. Perhaps spring and this week’s (extended) challenge provides the impetus for doing so.
When thinking of a first flight and spring, how could I not think of butterflies?
One of my favourite things to do with my children in the classroom was to have a butterfly house and observe the magic of all the life stages from egg to butterfly. It was wonderful to have this special little piece of nature up close in the classroom where we could see what you don’t always get to see in the world outside.
Every day we would watch, fascinated, as the caterpillars munched their way through leaf after leaf, growing bigger and bigger. We eagerly awaited the moment they would form themselves into ‘j’ shapes, alerting us that they were about to pupate.
We were amazed at how quickly they shed their last skin to reveal the beautiful chrysalis they had become. Then we would watch and wait until they were ready to emerge as butterflies.
We knew when it was almost time as the chrysalis would become transparent and we could see the wings through the case. When they finally emerged, we would give them time to spread and dry their wings before releasing them into the garden for their first flight.
The growth of a butterfly is a great analogy for creativity or the development of an idea or project. Sometimes a lot of hard work has to be expended before the idea is ready to take flight and the beauty becomes a reality.
Here is my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you like it.
Dear Butterfly, Love Caterpillar
You make the impossible seem possible. You inspire our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams. How can I be like you?
Dreams create possibilities but now you are exactly who you were meant to be.
Life is monotonous. Everyone does the same thing, day after day. Shouldn’t life be more than this?
Nothing happens overnight. Patience, determination and persistence will reward you in the end.
I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore. I think I will sleep forever. Goodbye.
Wake up, butterfly. It’s time to spread your wings and fly!
I thought I’d also share a poem that I wrote many years ago in response to an inspector’s visit to our school. As the title says, it is not really about a butterfly and was written long before I became the Butterfly Lady at another school.
I had always believed, and still do, that the children are the most important thing in the classroom and that we do our best for them every day. The teacher next-door wasn’t of the same view. We were in a large teaching space with our own areas separated by some cupboards arranged between us.
She spent a lot of time sitting at her desk, barking at the children to pay attention to her words. She had little of interest on display in the classroom and even less of the children’s own work. It was quite a contrast to my own space which was filled with activity, colour and children’s work.
When the inspector’s visit was announced, she suddenly decided to decorate her room and display children’s work. I was so flummoxed by this, that I was almost tempted to do the opposite. I believed that if what I did on a daily basis wasn’t good enough for the inspector, then it wasn’t good enough for the children either. I resisted the urge to tear everything down in protest (which might have been considered a flight from the situation) and wrote this poem instead.
Before reading it, I want you to know that the teacher and I were both teaching (perhaps I use that word lightly) year two and she was considerably younger than I.
Not Really About A Butterfly
Look at you now.
You put on your show.
Your butterfly colours are warmly aglow.
It’s hard to imagine
That not long ago
You were a mere silent pupa
With nowhere to go.
You flit and you flutter,
Cry, “Hey, look at me!”
And all turn their heads,
Wondrous beauty to see.
But where have you come from?
And how can this be?
Before . . .
Not one head would have turned.
There was nothing to see
— just a little green ball,
curled up on a tree.
Is it dishonest
to change rapidly?
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.
Learning about butterflies in the classroom, especially when observations of the life stages with a live learning kit are possible, is almost magic for children. The growth of the caterpillars is obvious and children can watch as they moult and pass through each instar. The voracious appetite of the caterpillars means that plants are quickly stripped of their leaves and, if children listen carefully, the munching of the mandibles can be heard.
Many resources to support an early childhood science biology unit about butterflies in particular, or minibeasts in general, already exist in the readilearn collection; including:
I included suggestions for teaching about minibeasts, including butterflies, in a previous post Classroom minibeasts. While there are many minibeasts suitable to study in the classroom, butterflies are my favourite. This week the readilearn collection has grown with some new resources to support learning about butterflies; including:
Butterfly word cards is a collection of forty butterfly-relevant words which may be printed and displayed on a word wall or used to label a butterfly display. The words are presented in three different formats for printing choice.
The words include some fascinating scientific terms; such as:
That I have an appreciation of and fascination with insects is no secret as I have written about it many times previously.
Some of my earliest posts formed a series in which I suggested using Eric Carle‘s Very Hungry Caterpillar story for developing critical literary, encouraging children to question the authenticity of what they read and the qualifications and intentions of the author.
Carle’s purpose with the story was to entertain, not to teach, and he was therefore unconcerned about inaccuracies in the butterfly life cycle.
The book, popular for its bright colourful illustrations and inspiring story of an ordinary caterpillar who becomes a beautiful butterfly achieves the author’s goal to entertain.
In a more recent post Revisiting The Very Hungry Caterpillar I provided a summary of, and links to, each of the four original posts which explained my recommendation that this very popular book was more relevant to teaching critical literacy than science.
Acknowledging the importance of maintaining Wondering in the everyday and an attachment with nature in wild spaces, I described my excitement at being able to observe every stage of the ladybird’s life cycle up close in my own backyard; an excitement that had perhaps exceeded observing the butterfly life cycle in the classroom with our live butterfly kits which had allowed us to Breathe – a sense of wonder! I even shared a section of a television interview in this post about Talking Interviews.
But the truth is I don’t really love allinsects. I’m not too keen on cockroaches, though the native Australian giant burrowing cockroaches are pretty cool. And although I am aware of vital roles of insects in the environment
as a food source for many animals
as pollinators for flowering plants
and I know that without them we’d basically not have an environment, in fact, we wouldn’t be; I often wonder whether we would be all that worse off without disease-spreading mosquitoes and flies. However, it seems that they too are vital to the health of our planet, whether we like them or not. It’s a bit of a “can’t live with them and can’t live without them” situation.
It took just one, then the word was out. The streets were abuzz with the news – a triumph of social media.
“Kyle’s having a barbecue. Tell everyone. Don’t bring anything. There’s always plenty.”
The excitement was palpable as guests swarmed towards Kyle’s. Some, initially unsure, flapped about nervously. Others, more experienced, felt they were dancing on the ceiling. Eventually all were on their way. The waft of seared flesh left no doubt about the location.
Kyle was ready when they arrived. “Who invited you?” he grinned and waved, as he knocked them out with the can of spray.
I have been privileged to spend time with young children throughout my adult life: my own, children I have taught, and now my grandchildren. Spending time with young children is one of the best ways of maintaining a sense of wonder and awe in the everyday. Opportunities abound, if one is willing to see the world afresh through their eyes,
the softness of petals in a newly opened flower
the collection of pollen on a bee’s legs as it rests within the flower
the snail’s silver trail on the pavement
where the puddle goes after the rain
how the toothpaste gets into the tube
how aeroplanes stay in the air
why the sky is blue
where clouds come from
why tigers have stripes and kangaroos hop
what came first: the chicken or the egg
One of my favourite ways of bringing the wonders of nature into the classroom is through observations of a live butterfly kit. We would watch the tiny caterpillars hatch, eat voraciously as they grew larger and larger, and then pupate before emerging triumphantly as beautiful butterflies.
There are many opportunities to notice, to question and to wonder:
What will happen if the caterpillars eat all the leaves?
How big will the caterpillars grow?
How long will it take for the caterpillar to change into a butterfly?
How does the caterpillar breathe?
Does the caterpillar know it is going to be a butterfly?
Does the butterfly remember being a caterpillar?
What happens to the caterpillar in the chrysalis?
Why do they poo so much?
We got to know that when a caterpillar was ready to pupate, it made a ‘j’ shape, hanging from under a leaf or branch, or from the top of the butterfly house. It would stay that way for a number of hours. Children (and teacher) would sneak over from time to time to see if anything was happening.
As soon as the caterpillar started wriggling, we would quietly rush over to watch as it shed its last skin to become a pupa. It is an amazing spectacle, one that is not often seen “in the wild”. In fact it is a very quick process, and unless someone just happened to be watching at the time, we would miss it. Although we didn’t see every caterpillar pupate, we saw enough to appreciate and wonder.
Equally as exciting was watching a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis. As the time was approaching the chrysalis would become transparent and we could see the shape and colour of the butterfly’s wings through the chrysalis. Watching the butterfly push open the chrysalis and emerge with crumpled wings was amazing. Oftentimes the butterflies would emerge in the mornings before the children arrived. But sometimes they waited, and we all watched as the butterflies pumped up their wings and spread them to dry in readiness for flying.
When the butterflies’ wings were dry and they were almost ready to fly we would remove them from the house. If we timed it just right, we could hold them on our fingers, transferring carefully from fingertip to fingertip without touching the wings. When they were ready to fly, we would go outside and release them. The children loved to look for the butterflies at lunch time and learned that observation was the best way to appreciate them.
The children’s interest and excitement was shared with anyone who visited the classroom: administrators, other teachers and children, siblings and parents. I tend to think that the children’s sense of wonder may have ignited a spark in others too.
Watching the short stages of a butterfly’s life is a good way to get children thinking about life, its beauty and its frailty, its dangers and its strength. Watching the transformations that take place can certainly take one’s breath away. It is this that has inspired my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.
I heard the scurry of footsteps. Then he was in the doorway; eyes ablaze, breathless.
“Come … quick … Miss,” he said, punctuating each word with puffs and pants.
Before I had moved, there were others behind him, imploring me to come.
With quickened pace I followed, hoping that I, that all, would be in time.
Others were there already, clustered around. I peered over their heads, expectantly, holding my breath in a vain attempt to make time stand still.
“Ahh!” we breathed in unison and awe as we watched the butterfly emerge from its now transparent shell.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.
If you didn’t participate in the poll, but would like to, have a go now.
What did you answer?
If you are familiar with this book
you may have chosen both statements as correct along with one third of respondents in the poll.
In his book Eric Carle writes that
“He (the caterpillar) built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and . . . he was a beautiful butterfly!”
If you either read or wrote one of the hundreds of thousands of articles about “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, or about butterflies and caterpillars in general, published on the internet, you probably also identified those two statements as correct.
But if you did, just like Eric Carle, you’d be wrong!
A caterpillar that undergoes metamorphosis to become a butterfly does not spin a cocoon and does not nibble its way out. The fully grown caterpillar moults into a chrysalis and, when ready, it splits the chrysalis to emerge as a butterfly.
For a series of beautiful photos showing the last moult of a caterpillar as it becomes a chrysalis, and another series showing a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, click here.
Or watch this video by Strang Entertainment showing the caterpillar becoming a chrysalis
or this one by Neil Bromhall showing a butterfly emerging
A moth’s caterpillar does spin a cocoon and does nibble its way out (think of a silkworm cocoon and moth).
This video shows silkworm caterpillars nibbling hungrily away at the mulberry leaves. Then when a caterpillar is fully grown (about 2 mins in) it spins it cocoon.
Compare the process with that of a monarch caterpillar forming a chrysalis. It is a very different thing.
It is impossible to rely on the information provided by many of the websites to guide one’s use of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” when working with children.
Though it’s a very brief picture book with sparse and simple language, The Very Hungry Caterpillar conveys an impressive array of wisdom and lessons for children. Most prominent among these is the life cycle of a caterpillar. The caterpillar in the story begins his life as an egg, then progresses through the larva stage. The time in his cocoon is his chrysalis stage, followed by his adult appearance as a butterfly.
This is a factually accurate portrayal of how lepidopterans (sic), an order of insects including butterflies and moths, grow and change. It teaches your child to understand this biological process. When you encounter a caterpillar, you can refer to The Very Hungry Caterpillar and ask your child about what it’s doing, since it’s likely to be looking for food. Likewise, you can reference the book when you see a butterfly, noting how it’s a caterpillar that has emerged from its cocoon after its transformation.”
You have already picked out the inaccuracies in that statement, haven’t you?
Another website, Primary upd8 also suggests using the book for teaching children about the butterfly’s life cycle, and look how it promotes itself!
“When speaking to teachers I often find raised eyebrows when I explain that butterflies’ larvae do not make cocoons. The teachers refer to Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where he refers to a ‘cocoon’.
Why does this misinformation persist, and why did Eric Carle use misleading statements in his book?
Does it matter if children (and adults) think that butterflies hatch out of cocoons?
Eric Carle didn’t seem to think it did.
Unfortunately I was unable to locate for confirmation an article I’d read years ago. This article, if I recall correctly, reported a response of Carle’s to children enquiring why he had used “cocoon” rather than “chrysalis”. His response was one of disdain. What did it matter?
If you search Eric Carle’s current website for cocoon, this is the response you will receive:
While Carle concedes that most butterflies come from a chrysalis, he triumphantly states that one rare genus pupates in a cocoon! I confirmed this with the Encyclopaedia Britannica .
Does that one rare instance let Carle off the hook?
“Actually, the Parnassians pupate inside cocoon-like webs usually constructed among leaves or in rubbish piles.” (my underlining)
So not quite true and not quite off the hook Eric Carle.
In addition, although I couldn’t find the article I was searching for, I found this from Scholastic which shows that Eric was aware of the error and declined to change it.
“By the way, Eric already knows that a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon! So don’t bother writing to tell him. Eric explains how the famous “mistake” crept into the book:
“My editor contacted a scientist, who said that it was permissible to use the word cocoon. Poetry over science. It simply would not have worked to say, ‘Come out of your chrysalis!’ If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar come out of a cocoon?”
There are many points for discussion in that statement:
His editor contacted a scientist – What sort of scientist? I would say one with questionable credentials or entomological knowledge.
Permissible to use the word “cocoon” – Why? For what purpose?
Poetry over science!!!!!!! Chrysalis is a beautiful word, specific to the butterfly. What could be more poetic than that? Poetic and scientific! What a great combination!
Why wouldn’t it have worked to say “Come out of your chrysalis”?
A caterpillar doesn’t come out of a cocoon. A caterpillar spins a cocoon; then a moth comes out of it; not a butterfly! (Except for the rare Parnassian butterfly.)
Is this issue, as Carle suggests, the same as giants and dwarfs, genies in bottles and knights who attack windmills?
What do you think?
Do picture book authors have a responsibility in imparting factual information to children?
“We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth”
Not quite the same thing I know, but an obligation nonetheless?
Though not there now, when I first looked at the Reading Rockets interview with Eric Carle this quote was prominently displayed beside it:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
— Dr. Seuss
A bit ironic, don’t you think?
How much of the responsibility should remain with the reader to verify the correctness/accuracy of what is read? How does one go about that?
I have always been a believer in the “question everything” approach. “Don’t believe everything you read,” I say. But sometimes knowing what to accept and what to question can be a difficult thing.
I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment in the comment box.
Here are links to some of the articles I referred to in this post: