Butterflies!

As part of our Science curriculum, we have an ongoing project this Spring observing the lifecycle of the Painted Lady butterfly. We bought a butterfly habitat redeemed the enclosed certificate through Insect Lore. Within a few days we had five caterpillars shipped to us.

Our caterpillars (the butterfly larval stage) were only approximately 1.5 cm when they arrived, but they quickly doubled in size. Within a week we had 3.0 cm caterpillars in our little cup.

After a little more than a week from the time they arrived, our caterpillars started getting restless, and finally moved to the top of the cup to pupate. In our pictures, you can see how they hang down, in a sort of J-shape formation. Slowly the crysalis formed from the bottom upward. Within a couple of days, all five of our caterpillars were encased, hanging from the top of the cup. There was a thin piece of paper on the inside of the lid for transferring the crysalides to the larger butterfly habitat.

This past weekend, after more than a week in the pupal stage, our butterflies emerged! We now have five beautiful butterflies in our enclosure. It is so awesome to observe the butterflies up close, seeing their little body parts. For several minutes we watched our butterflies curl and uncurl their little proboscis, enjoying the sliced oranges I placed in the bottom of the butterfly house. We are still undecided on whether we will keep our butterflies for the entire lifecycle (waiting for eggs to be layed) or release them on an upcoming warm day.

One of our co-op members posted a wonderful resource on Painted Lady butterflies – this site has a lot of information and pointers for raising butterflies. While this project was done to follow along with our Biology curriculum, I think this is a great stand-alone project. And once you have the butterfly house you can always order additional caterpillars (the initial set they send is included in the price of the butterfly house, not including shipping costs).

 

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Welcome Spring!

This Wednesday we welcomed the changing of the seasons with a kite-flying outing at one of our local parks. Our flying wasn’t as successful as I would have hoped but the kids loved it. We spent some time at the playground afterwards, and finished our afternoon adventure with some vegan cupcakes at Green. Our Spring comes pretty early here in Texas so we will be spending a lot more time outdoors enjoying Nature, before our brutal Summer heat keeps us indoors with the A/C.

 

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Wasp Galls

This Fall Kyri learned about wasp galls in one of her Nature books. Ever since then, she has been fascinated with them! When we are exploring outside, she makes it a point to look for them. We spent a fair amount of time this weekend collecting wasp galls and cracking them open. It was so interesting to see what was inside each one!

But first, a little background on galls…

A gall is an abnormal growth on a plant. Some plants will produce these growths on their own, but often their formation is induced by insects.For many kinds of wasps, these formations provide nourishment and shelter for the developing eggs.

The female wasp inserts her eggs into the tree’s tissue, along with a chemical that induces this abnormal tree tissue growth. A gall is essential an abnormal tissue growth on the plant, like a tumor. The egg grows and develops within the gall, which serves to protect the wasp larvae. When it matures, it will chew its way out of the gall. The empty gall is then used by other species for shelter.

There are two “generations” of gall wasps that emerge from these galls. In late December, there is an “asexual generation” so only adult females emerge from the galls. Adults of both sexes emerge from galls in the “sexual generation” which occurs in early Spring. Eggs layed by the sexual generation will lay dormant for several months before emerging from their galls as the subsequent asexual generation.

The wasp larvae are still susceptible to predation even within the gall’s protective casing. But here’s an interesting fact – the developing larvae produce a chemical that converts the plant tissue (a starch) into sugar. This sugary secretion, called honeydew, attracts insects such as ants, honeybees and yellowjackets. These insects discourage other predators from going after the larvae inside the gall.

Here are some links with more information.

Aggie Horticulture

Texas A&M Agriculture Extension

Texas Young Naturalist

The branche of the live oak on our property have a multitude of marble-sized galls. I happened to point them out tomy husband today and told him about Kyri’s fascinationg with them. He was curious, and he happened to have a hammer in his hand, so he picked one and we cracked it open. Kyri was all about cracking open galls so we spent a good while picking galls and opening them up. It was quite an educational experience for the  family.

Within each gall we found a yellowish casing, presumeably for whatever type of wasp formed the gall in the first place. We found each of the galls contained a yellowing casing which we assumed was from the wasp larva. Each gall had a pin hole, which was assumed to be formed when the larva chewed its way out of the gall.

We did not find any galls that contained wasp larva, only the remaining egg casing. However, many of the galls we examined did contain small spiders, or spider silk and spider eggs. The gall is an inviting home for spiders to lay eggs and settle in once the wasp larva are gone (or while they are still in there). Several of the galls contained mini colonies of ants. This was not expected (we didn’t know much about the ants before our “field work.”

Fascinating!

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Spring Break at San Antonio Botanical Gardens

We are huge fans of the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT) – we love participating in their seasonal exhibits, homeschool classes and various activities offered during the year.

This week was Spring Break for our area, and SABOT had various Spring Break themed activities planned for kids. Each day from 10-2 there were crafts and activities available for kids.

We went with a few homeschool families and had a blast! Our kids made crafty leis, learned about Japanese sand Zen gardens, went “fishing” for shells, made colored sand art, and even played in a HUGE mountain of sand that was brought in for the week. There was also an amazing sand sculpture on display – the artist worked during the course of the week and sculpted the front of the Alamo as well as a caterpillar on some cactus.

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Explore – Philopodia

Earlier this week, Kyri participated in an Explore class at Friedrich Wilderness Park. This month’s theme was Philopodia, the love of feet. Kyri learned all about feet, how they differ among animals, what they are used for, and how some animals you might not expect actually have feet too!. She also learned about a variety of tracks left by different animals. She made a plaster mold of a porcupine track to bring home, and made several rubbings of various animal tracks.

We will be attending the remaining Explore classes this Spring. We have wonderful homeschool resources available through our Natural Areas and Parks and Recreation. Homeschoolers here in San Antonio should definitely take advantage of some of the many offerings. The Spring schedule of classes offered through San Antonio Parks and Rec are here; many classes have size limits so RSVPs are required.

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Starting Out Wild

Ender is almost two years old, and since it appears we are going to be a homeschooling family for the foreseeable future, I have been giving a lot of thought to early preschool activities. Ender is our sidekick, so its not that he isn’t getting exposed to learning, but I wanted to find activities specifically geared to his age for a change. I’m starting to pull together resources for him, and will share this in a later post.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we have participated in Growing Up Wild with several fellow homeschoolers. Growing Up Wild is a nature studies curriculum that is targeted to kids ages 3 – 7. Well, Growing Up Wild is also offered monthly through the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, and just this past month they started offering Starting Out Wild.

Starting Up Wild uses the Growing Up Wild curriculum, but targets kids ages 1 – 3. Activities are kept simple and age appropriate. This week we had the chance to take part (we missed last month because the response was overwhelming and there weren’t enough spots) and we had a really fun time! This month’s topic was Spiders. There were stories, crafts and a short nature walk to find spiders and spider webs.

Ender was a little shy, but he really seemed to enjoy the nature walk. Even though Kyri was a bit older than the other participants, she was able to take part too. I think this will be a wonderful program for Ender – it is nice planning activities that are geared toward his age group for a change.

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Birds, Birds, Birds

I’ve mentioned previously that we participate in a small co-op for our Science and History studies. For Science we are using R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey (RSO) Life Biology Level 1. We really love the layout of the curriculum and have been really impressed with the lessons over the course of the school year. We are currently studying Animals, and for the past couple of weeks we have been learning about Birds. The co-op decided to do two field trips to the San Antonio Zoo as part of our study of animals(for Birds and Mammals).

The first visit was this past week, and we spent a couple of hours exploring the different bird exhibits and getting a feel for the different habitats where the birds originate, as well as the differences in body features specific to their habitat and eating habits. As we explored, we noted the birds we saw, listing them

Zoos fall in a gray area for me as a vegan, and I struggled with my decision to attend. We made the decision at the beginning of the year not to attend the Sea World Homeschool Day because of their use of animals for entertainment, and I haven’t been to a zoo personally since probably middle school. I think I finally came to terms with going to the zoo because of the educational benefit it provided, and while there is an entertainment aspect to the zoo, zoos also have scientific merit. The same could be said for Sea World, too, I suppose, but at least the zoo doesn’t have a roller coaster and train the animals to do tricks. Sigh. Like I said, it wasn’t an easy decision and I am still not entirely comfortable with it, but Kyri really enjoyed seeing all the birds and learned a lot with our visit. We will go back for our second field trip in a few weeks when we cover Mammals.

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McKenna Children’s Museum

We had a wonderful visit to McKenna Children’s Museum last week. This was our first time visiting – it is in New Braunfels (TX) so it is about an hour’s drive for us. But Kyri and Ender both had such an awesome time!  The hospital – which had a nursery and an ambulance – was definitely one their favorites. The few hours we spent there definitely were not enough to thoroughly explore all the museum has to offer, so we will be returning soon!

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