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Raising butterflies is an educational experience for teens

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It is captivating to see a butterfly fluttering lightly upon the summer breeze. Children often gaze in awe at these magnificent wonders. They want to grasp hold of the moving palette of colors to discover all the secrets beneath its wings.

Raising butterflies is an amazing experience for all ages, offering excitement and satisfying curiosity. And this project can be even more rewarding and educational for teenagers.

When I was little, I would run frantically after any butterfly that entered my garden. While this gave me plenty of exercise, I never succeeded at capturing anything. Fortunately, I got the chance to raise butterflies from caterpillars in my preschool. I received my little cup with a tiny caterpillar inside. I remember stroking the tiny black, yellow, and green caterpillar as if it were a pet. However, my excitement was quickly quelled when my poor caterpillar died the next day. In my class, I don’t recall any caterpillar surviving the trials and torments of lively 4 year olds.

My early experiences left an unsatisfied child inside of me. It was just a pure stroke of luck that a butterfly laid its eggs right on my mother’s parsley plant. All I knew was that the parsley plant slowly began to lose its volume, and the leaves began to get sparser each day. In the midst of confusion over why there was never enough parsley for our spaghetti, my mother noticed that our plant had been invaded by caterpillars.

Different sizes and shapes, some of the caterpillars were big, sea green monsters the size of my pinky and were happily chomping away at the parsley. Others were miniscule, scrunched-up black creatures crawling along the stems. Knowing little about butterflies and caterpillars, I did some research about them online and quickly identified them as Black Swallowtails. They emerge into elegant black butterflies with blue, red, and yellow patterns and often make their homes on plants of the Umbellifer family, such as parsley, dill, and carrots.

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I decided to keep a few caterpillars in a small cage. (The rest of the caterpillars disappeared mysteriously after consuming the entire parsley plant.) I nurtured them and hoped they would all emerge into butterflies. I knew it would be a big responsibility, requiring patience and maturity, but I vowed that this time all my caterpillars would survive to become butterflies.

I soon realized that raising caterpillars was much harder than I expected. They began to develop their own personalities: Feisty, Friendly, and Hulkie (yes, like the Hulk). Some were docile, like Friendly, and allowed me to hold them. Yet, others, like Feisty, stuck out their osmetrium, releasing a foul-smelling odor. All of them were very picky with their food. When our parsley was finally depleted, they refused to eat any lettuce or celery.

As the caterpillars approached their metamorphosis, they began to clean out their systems. As disgusting and smelly as this was, I was extremely excited. My caterpillars were to become butterflies! The next day, my first caterpillar went into its chrysalis — or its self-made home for metamorphosis. It was semi-translucent and still very much alive. If I accidentally prodded it, the life inside would shudder wildly to scare me away.

I watched it day after day, waiting for the big change. Then, one day, I looked over at the cage, and there stood the most amazing creature. Tottering around, like a newborn animal, the butterfly stretched its crumpled, wet wings, which were black and dotted with bits of color. I breathlessly reached in to hold it. At first, it was unstable, tumbling about on my fingers and could not fly with its new wings. I felt like a proud parent carrying my baby for the first time. I carried my butterfly around on my shirt, and it even perched on my hair. It was amazing to be so close to something so beautiful.

As my butterfly learned to fly, it was time to say goodbye. I wanted to hold onto this creation forever, but knew a butterfly did not belong in my hands. It longs to be free. So, I went outside and spread my fingers. The wings of the butterfly looked like black velvet against the bright sunlight. Quickly, it fluttered away, high up into the trees.

Releasing the first butterfly was the hardest, yet the most thrilling. My other butterflies soon emerged, and I was amazed at how different they were. Friendly had a deformed wing. I pitied it, but despite its disability, it eventually took flight along with the others. It was a life-changing experience. I realized the fragility of life and admired Friendly for its strength to overcome adversity.

Raising butterflies is the perfect activity and a great entomology lesson for teenagers. It is an inspiring and memorable experience to hold such a delicate creature. Butterflies don’t live very long (many only for a week or two), but in their short lives, they are able to accomplish so much. They make us happy.

Aglaia Ho is a 16-year-old student from Queens who enjoys writing. Her work has been published in Creative Kids, Skipping Stones, Daily News/Child­ren’s Pressline, and The State of the Wild.

Updated 4:38 pm, December 9, 2016
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