Butterfly release ‘an authentic learning experience’

Leann Burke/The Herald


KYANA — Kindergartners in Andrea Gehlhausen’s class waved and called goodbye Friday morning to the butterflies they’d been raising as the insects flew off into the breeze.

The students were one of several classes at Pine Ridge Elementary to raise painted lady butterflies as part of a program sponsored by International Paper — which has a facility in St. Anthony — and Celebrate Planet Earth. As part of the program, the classes received kits with the caterpillars and a net habitat that allowed the students to watch as the insects grew, formed a chrysalis and emerged as butterflies. Classes have been releasing their butterflies all week as they hatch.

Contrary to common belief, butterflies do not form cocoons. That’s moths, and they form a silky cocoon. Butterflies form a hard casing called a chrysalis where they undergo their final transformation.

“We learned that they can’t stay in the chrysalis forever,” said kindergartner Elsie Warren.

The butterflies Warren and her classmates released Friday hatched only days before, emerging from their chrysalises with wet, crumpled wings. Although the students missed them hatching, they did get to see their wings expand and dry. They also saw red droplets on the paper plate inside the habitat and worried that their winged pets were bleeding. Gehlhausen assured them that it was just extra wing dye.

Once the wings dried, it was time to say goodbye. Outside, the class gathered around Gehlhausen as she coaxed one of the four newly hatched insects onto her finger. Two more still hung in their chrysalises and will be released next week.

Once on Gehlhausen’s finger, the first butterfly just sat, opening and closing its wings to give the students a good look at is fuzzy body and bright coloring. Finally, it tried to fly, but instead fell toward the ground, landing among the students who were careful not to hurt it.

“When we’re around these, [the students] are a lot calmer and gentler,” Gehlhausen said. “It’s neat to see.”

While the first butterfly sat on the ground among the students, Gehlhausen guided the others out of the net, and the students waved as they flew away.

Meanwhile, the butterfly on the ground found its way onto Hunter Betz’s finger. Betz grinned as his classmates gathered around him to see the butterfly. Despite trying catch butterflies in his yard at home, Betz said, he’d never held one. That was his favorite part of the project.

This wasn’t the first time Gehlhausen raised butterflies with her students. Usually, she buys kits online, but when she got the email from International Paper offering a free kit, she jumped on it.

“It’s an authentic learning experience,” Gehlhausen said of the project. “They’re learning a lot.”

As the students lined up to go back inside, the fifth insect broke open its chrysalis and emerged from the shell. It will be released next week, along with the class’s sixth insect that was still nestled in its shell Friday.

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