Life and Death

There were two men at my front door.  One was my usual exterminator; the other introduced himself as being “in training.”  And off they went to discourage outside life from coming inside.

Some of the kids were in the back waiting for the swimming teacher.  Not too long after the men started working, Peter came flying into the house to report that they had knocked down the monarch butterfly chrysalides (or chrysalises – both plural forms are acceptable).  He, and all my children, were in shock, traumatized.  You may as well have shot the dog.  One child called them “evil.”  Another asked why they would do such a thing.

The men caught on quickly that the children were upset and apologized, saying they had no idea.  It was the “in training” guy who was the primary culprit, and there were mud dauber homes between the butterflies, which I had known about but had decided would just have to stay until the butterflies were done.  I knew their actions were ignorance, not malice.  The children were less understanding.

The children found 3 chrysalides.  I moved one milkweed plant with a big fat caterpillar on it to the inside of our lanai (fancy term for a screened porch), and we placed the chrysalides there as well.  The exterminator men were very hopeful that all would be fine…but since they couldn’t even identify a chrysalis to begin with, I have my doubts that their reassurances are anything more than hot air.

But it’s really ok.  These are the third set of butterflies we’ve raised.  A kind friend gave us about 6 caterpillars back in February, I believe.  We have witnessed the metamorphosis from larva to pupa to adult.  We set those butterfly free, and several weeks later, we found our milkweed plants crawling with caterpillars.  We have watched a butterfly lay her eggs, and we have looked closely and found teeny, freshly-hatched caterpillars.  We have watched caterpillars get bigger and bigger, seemingly before our eyes.  We have seen just how much poop a hoard of caterpillars can generate.  We have watched them leave the milkweed plant, crawl away, and bend their body into a J-shape after they found a suitable place to nap.  We have watched them squirm into a chrysalis and then get very still.  We have watched the chrysalis change color and suddenly, the moment we turn our back, we have seen a brand-new butterfly, drying its wings, and we have watched that butterfly take its first flight.  We have seen dead butterflies, one missing its thorax.

I have taught about the life cycle of butterflies over and over, but those lessons can not remotely compare to how much my children have learned in the last few months.  Mary knows the vocabulary – from chrysalis to thorax.  It’s amazing what even a dead, maimed butterfly can teach.  We can identify caterpillar eggs on a plant.  We know when it’s just about time for the next stage, and we know how incredibly quickly the insect transforms.  We know if you have the only milkweed plants in the neighborhood, you will have more caterpillars than a half dozen plants can support.

Perhaps if these butterflies don’t make it, it is for the best anyway.  I don’t know that the milkweed will bounce back.  Even though the plants are not expensive, there is still a limit.

I have pictures, but I can’t get them off my camera right now.  I hope to update this post once I find the missing cord!

6 thoughts on “Life and Death

  1. You are obviously more diligent than I about repeating lessons! I think, “We've already done butterflies…” and skip them. Then, a few years later, it occurs to me that the big kids did butterflies, but most of the little ones weren't even born yet! So we do butterflies. 🙂 This applies to read-aloud stories, too, and how to bake chocolate chip cookies, and so on.

  2. I ordered a butterfly garden and then the caterpillars. Within days of arriving they became chrysalides and a few days after that I very carefully pinned the paper they were attached to to the inside of the “garden.” I placed the garden on newspaper on the dining room table and within 5 minutes it became a cat toy. I almost wrang the cat's neck. It's a tough thing, being a chrysalide!
    I am still waiting to see if they “hatch” — can't think of the right word — but I'm not hopeful. 😦

    PS I so agree about the poop. Yikes!

  3. I did the butterfly garden with my children too when we were home schooling. Loved it. It was amazing. Sorry about this incident. At least the new guy learned something. 🙂

  4. Cat toy – I howled!

    Assuming the plants survive long enough to put out seed pods, when they mature & before the wind blows them all over, grab the pods & scatter the seeds along nearby quiet roads and fallow fields. That should spread the wealth!

    To further the fun quotient, if you spray paint the dried empty pods gold, the kids can make Christmas ornaments out of them. It is best to punch a hole near the top for hanging before they dry out too much. On one, I painted the inside dark blue, glued tiny stars on the “sky” & glued the Holy Family at the bottom. I also glued small bits of cotton in the “sky” & parked small angels on them. The other one, I just glued cotton in the bottom & added small sledders & a snowman. I think I did another one with cotton, trees, & deer. All sorts of small/tiny people & animals appear around Christmas – even as early as October.

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