Focus on painted ladies

Today’s focus isn’t going to be a focus on art. A few weeks back my class received their insect lore painted lady caterpillars. They have finished their time in the cocoon oven and are have emerged as butterflies. So as I get set to release them it seems a good time to look at them in more detail.

The painted ladies are favoured by schools for looking at life cycles as insect lore has made them readily available. However few schools go beyond to look at the remarkable life of these butterflies.

Starting as the eggs they hatch out as tiny millilitre big caterpillars. This is how most schools receive them in their little pots.

They rapidly grow in size of about 2 weeks before turning into cocoons. One thing that always surprises the children is when they see the cocoons wriggle. In the wild in the U.K. they favour thistles and nettles for food.

They remain cocoons for around a week before emerging as butterflies.

As butterflies they use their proboscis to feed. A bit like a long tongue that curls up when not in use. Their fascinating to watch feeding.


All this would be remarkable enough, but painted ladies have more about them. They are in fact migrants to our shores. Now when people say migrant, currently probably think more on a UKIP lines, or else birds.  But these butterflies make amazing journeys. Painted ladies can’t survive our winter, so they travel all the way from North Africa and across Europe. They are the only butterfly to of been reported in Iceland.

We don’t see the migration though as they travel at high altitudes. Over several generations they make the journey as they only live around two weeks as a butterfly. The navigational skills contained within this tiny species is mind boggling.

Now doesn’t that make for a more interesting use of them teaching children than just getting them to alongside reading the very hungry caterpillar. The use of them in schools is often frowned upon, so if you are going to get the most out of them for the children. Teach about their life cycle, their eating habits, structure and the remarkable story of their migration.

For an interesting read for children on migration check out Chris Packham’s and Jason Cockcroft amazing animal migration. It explains migration in a way that made sense to the five year olds I’ve taught.


Further reading

BBC documentary (currently unavailable, but worth watching out for)

7 thoughts on “Focus on painted ladies”

  1. Fantastic, I meant to do something like that this year but the academic year has just disappeared so quickly. On another note I have just purchased that book but only managed a quick flip through and cannot wait to read it properly.

    Liked by 1 person

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