A naturalist, named John, visited the Community Center. He took the campers on a walk in the nature preserve just behind the Center. As they walked, John pointed out types of plants, birds and bugs. The boys were more interested in the bugs; the girls wanted to know about the beautiful flowers. Eulyn spotted something crawling on a leaf. John put it on his finger and asked the “Can Dos” what it was. Hector called out, “An ugly looking thing.” Everyone giggled.
John asked again. Jay said, “It’s a caterpillar and it won’t always be ugly. One day soon it will turn into a beautiful butterfly. Some of the “Can Dos” nodded in agreement, others looked puzzled. John said, ‘That’s right. Soon this crawly thing will be a beautiful butterfly.” Kathy spoke up. Please tell us how that happens.”
John had them sit down on low rocks and began to share what he knew about how a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.“A butterfly begins as caterpillar. It takes four steps to become a butterfly: egg, caterpillar, pupa, and adult. We call this process metamorphosis. This word comes from the Latin words …”changing shape.”
Most butterflies lay their eggs on plants. When the egg hatches, a small caterpillar crawls out and eats the eggshell, and then it begins eating the plant. Caterpillars just munch all day. A caterpillar’s insides grow, but not its outside—when it gets too big for its skin, the covering splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. A caterpillar sheds its skin 5 times, and then it becomes a pupa. The last time the caterpillar sheds, a hard casing called a chrysalis forms around its body. Inside this hard casing, lots of things are happening. The pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae, and wings.
After 10 to 15 days, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges. At first its wings are wet and crinkled, but after about an hour, they are straight, dry, and strong enough for the butterfly to flutter away. The “Can Dos” all looked amazed. Hands went up, and the questions started.
Willie wanted to know what parts of the world you would find caterpillars. According to John, all continents except Antarctica.
Nellie wanted to know what kind of places did they make their homes. John’s answer, “They can be found in everything from rain forests to places like here.”
Arthur Jay wanted to know what caterpillars and butterflies eat. “Caterpillars eat leaves; butterflies sip nectar, sap, and juices from fruit,” answered John.
“How big are they,” asked Annie. “From less than 1 inch to about 11 inches across, depending on the species,” said John.
“I’d like to tell you more about the butterfly,” said John, “But it is time to get back to the camp. If you want to learn more about the butterfly, there is a great website you can go to. I will show you it when we get back to camp.