Pine Islanders Go On Caterpillar Safari, Launch Rescue Mission


Pine Islanders Go On Caterpillar Safari, Launch Rescue Mission

September 14, 2021

“If you plant it, they will come!”

That’s what Pine Island kindergarten teacher Theresa Canfield suggested, in fun, should be the elementary school’s new motto. Besides the beautiful and bountiful natural surroundings of the school, the Pine Island courtyard is especially vibrant, full of seasonal plants and flowers, a tomato patch, and all kinds of different and exciting life to encounter.

That’s exactly what students in Ms. Canfield’s class experienced last week, when they went on a “caterpillar safari” into the courtyard. They went out to check on a group of monarch butterfly caterpillars that had moved into the courtyard to dine on the tasty milkweed growing there.

“As soon as I noticed the caterpillars, we took advantage of a teachable moment,” said Ms. Canfield. “Children learn best when it’s in the moment, so with no guarantees about how long the caterpillars would be there, we headed right out into the courtyard to observe them.”

The students noted the monarch butterfly caterpillars’ distinctive black, white, and yellow markings, their bobbing antennae, and watched them crawl around on and nibble away at the leaves of the milkweed plants — the caterpillars’ main source of sustenance, the students learned.

“Then, the other day when I took the kids out to check on the caterpillars, we noticed that most of the milkweed was gone,” said Ms. Canfield. “The caterpillars had eaten it all!”

The class decided we wanted to help the caterpillars thrive, so we called Officer Katie — a Warwick PD officer and the resource officer at both Pine Island and Sanfordville — to help.

“I remembered learning that she had once traveled to Mexico to observe a monarch butterfly migration,” said Ms. Canfield. “We thought she’d be the one to help.”

And sure enough, she was! Officer Katie called a friend with specific caterpillar knowledge and the decision was made to help the caterpillars out by relocating them from the courtyard. 

“So, last Thursday she came and got them — 40 caterpillars — and moved them to a field in Warwick where she knew there would be enough milkweed for them to continue to grow,” said Ms. Canfield.

The students loved the whole experience and learned a lot about the caterpillars and their growth into butterflies. The rescue operation aspect of the whole lesson got them particularly excited.

“We are calling it, Operation Butterfly,” said Ms. Canfield.




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