Each summer my kids and I dabble in a project involving low-maintenance pets. Three summers ago was goldfish that survived only a few days (before its overfeeding); last summer involved raising caterpillar to butterflies; and this summer we raised larvae into ladybugs, specifically called Pink-Spotted Ladybug.
*If you like, you can check out the full post written in June 2017 titled “Butterflies in our house.”
Like summer 2017, our live shipment arrived from InsectLore.com, an online company specializing in educational insect-raising kits. Kids were thrilled when they saw the package, and they carried it slowly into the house talking in whispers. The inside contents included a slim plastic tube with strips of green crinkled paper, long and skinny larvae that looked like mini alligators, and a grainy substance for their food. We then twisted open the magnifying cap on top of the dome and shook the tube contents into it.
For this beginning stage, our only job required wetting the grey sponge (drinking station) with few drops of water from a pipette. Instructions said only a few drops to prevent larvae drowning, but to kids still working on fine motor skills, it meant big drenching squirts. There was little to observe the first couple of days until the larvae got bigger; they ate voraciously and actively moved all around the dome.
Some fun facts about ladybugs:
- Ladybugs are not bugs. They are a kind of beetle.
- In the Middle Ages, European farmers struggled with pests destroying their crops. So they prayed for help from the Virgin Mary and ladybugs suddenly appeared eating up all the pests. They were then called Lady Beetles after the Virgin Mary.
- They smell with their feet and antenna.
- They can fly.
- If threatened, they release a toxic liquid from their legs (harmful to animals but not humans).
- Ladybugs come in a variety of colors and in hundreds of species.
- The brightness of their colors fades over time.
- Gardeners love to have ladybugs for natural pest control. (Information gathered from kidskonnect.com, uCatholic.com, teachingmama.org, Katrina DeLallo from Super Teacher Worksheets)
My goal for this project was to engage the kids in the process and do more than just observe. I wanted them to practice articulating what they saw. This required them to dictate their daily observations and draw pictures of what they saw.
I was nervous to introduce this activity in case it seemed tedious and boring, so I prefaced it by saying that real scientists do this all the time. This must’ve made them feel very grown-up: they referred to themselves as scientists and talked in a serious voice as they looked through their magnifying glasses. They totally got into character: no giggles or squirming.
Once all the pupae molted, the dome looked messy with black trails of their molting and deceased larvae stuck to the green strips. We decided to move them into a new and improved home in the form of an empty glass jar sitting in our pantry.
We took leftover pebbles from our goldfish days and layered the bottom for ladybugs to explore; added a wet gauze for their water supply; dropped soggy raisins and lettuce for nutrition; and decorated with sticks and flowers to make their home cozy.
Each bug was transferred to its new home with it sitting atop a wooden chopstick. Plastic wrap covered the top with several holes poked in them for ventilation.
The bugs stayed with us almost 20 days until I felt nervous that they might die from the heat inside the jar. Summers are uncomfortably hot even indoors in California.
Kids reluctantly agreed with my rationale to let them go; the next morning we took our jar outside for the grand release. They took turns getting each of the ladybugs out on a stick and placing them inside our container plants. Some lingered, but most of them crawled away within seconds. This was the one time that I wish our plants swarmed with pests like aphids so these ladybugs could have have a feast.
Overall, this summer project was enjoyable, educational, and memorable. I wish I had as much enthusiasm when I was a kid, but it’s not too late for me to keep exploring, discovering, and questioning along with my kids. Another big lesson for me as a homeschooling mom was developing more confidence in deciding what and how to teach, as well as getting comfortable not knowing all the answers. It’s fine to say, “I don’t know. Let’s look it up together.”
These kinds of projects are usually reserved for summer, but we’re on a roll. Next up: raising tadpoles or hermit crabs. Stay tuned!