Carver-McDonald Branch Library grows caterpillars for spring story time

Carver-McDonald Branch Library grows caterpillars for spring story time
Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 6:39 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 9:56 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MONROE, La. (KNOE) - The Carver-McDonald Branch Library of the Ouachita Parish Public Library is getting ready for a different kind of story time.

The library and children participating in the upcoming story time will raise caterpillars, and they’re celebrating the spring season with a special story time for elementary students and teens. The elementary students will read a classic book called, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar.’

Janet Davis, the branch’s Children and Young Adult Librarian, says they selected the book for springtime because it’s when flowers begin to bloom. When the caterpillars evolve into butterflies, they’re good for flowers during the season.

“Butterflies are not just beautiful to look at. Butterflies are also pollinators, and they are very important to the process of beautiful flowers that you see in your garden,” says Davis.

During the observation sessions, students will be able to record the changes in caterpillars.

“They will also be able to make journal entries,” says Davis. “They will talk about the different parts of the caterpillar; they’ll talk about the different parts of the butterfly. So, we’re hoping this will help our students in their science classes.”

Children ranging from six years old through high school will be able to study painted lady caterpillars and watch them transform.

The staff says the painted lady caterpillars are expected to arrive to the branch on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. The library plans to have a local gardener plant flowers in front of the library for the caterpillars when they evolve into butterflies.

The teens will observe the growth of caterpillars beginning on Monday, April 3, at 3:45 p.m.; followed by story time with elementary students on Tuesday, April 4 at 3:45 p.m. Davis says families are welcomed to participate in the observation sessions.

The library and students will release the butterflies in May.

Tyler Towles, a Research and Extension Entomologist with LSU AgCenter, provided KNOE’s newsroom with facts about the painted lady butterflies:

Painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) are a species of brush footed butterflies that migrate northward in the spring. The name brushfooted comes from the fact that the first pair of legs (forelegs) on painted ladies are greatly reduced and hairy. Looking at a painted lady butterfly, you would think there were only 4 legs, but if you look closely, you can see those little brushfeet.

This species undergoes complete metamorphosis: meaning it begins as an egg, turns into a larva, then a pupae (cocoon), and finally an adult. In butterflies, we refer to the cocoon as a chrysalis.

After hatching from the egg, the larvae continually grow and go through several stages while feeding on various host plants including sunflowers and thistles (the spiny weeds we see in our yards sometimes) to name a few. Larvae are generally darker in color but bear many white spines that run the length of the body. While feeding, painted lady larvae will leave behind silken chambers that protect them from predators, such as birds.

After larval feeding concludes and the larvae has grown to full size, the chrysalis is formed, and the larva pupates. This pupation stage lasts about a week and the adults emerge as a painted lady butterfly. Once the adult emerges, their diet changes and they begin feeding on nectar from flowers instead of plant foliage.

The butterfly itself has bright orange to pink wings when viewed from the top, however, the underside of the wings is much less dazzling, displaying a myriad of brown, black, and white markings.