Caterpillar Rearing Project for Schools: Inspiring kids to become citizen scientists
Updated: Jun 26
By Pritha Dey
On its eleventh year, National Moth Week (NMW), a global citizen-science programme has put a spotlight on documenting the early stages of the moth life cycle. This is an annual event which brings moth-ers of all ages to participate in a celebration of moth diversity across the globe.
NMW, in collaboration with iNaturewatch has launched a nationwide programme this year, which will include schoolchildren to document moth life cycle as part of a short three-month long project. Schoolchildren will have a chance to be citizen-scientist! Myself, V. Shubhalaxmi and Vijay Barve form the core team; and we have WWF Delhi, Nature Mates Kolkata and DiversityIndia as regional coordinators. The project was launched on 5th June, the World Environment Day and will conclude on the 31st August, 2022. The students of 6,7 and 8th grade will work in groups to look for, collect and rear caterpillars, documenting each of the stages along with documenting the hostplants. In the process, the kids will have hands-on experience in observing metamorphosis in nature. The moth caterpillars also adopt various defence strategies like mimicry, and camouflage to avoid predators-in the process of which, some look like twigs, leaves, have warning colouration etc; which the kids can observe going beyond just references in textbooks.
Rearing caterpillars is a fun activity and pretty straightforward. Although, there are some fuzzy, hairy caterpillars that are better not touched by the kids, and our team will hand out instructions and protocols on how to handle caterpillars and which ones to look for or not. The caterpillars will be active, constantly changing their form and shape. Just watching them and noting down the changes while observing their odd behaviours will be engaging for the kids. As most adult moths are nocturnal, the school and the students aren’t able to participate in a nighttime activity of documenting moths, whereas they can easily take part in the daytime activity and contribute their observations. This project aims to tap into the keen minds of school children and include them in citizen-science programmes.
For the diversity of moths that we have in India, there are many moth species where the caterpillars are not known, or where caterpillars have been found, but it is not known which adults they came from. The project also aims to bridge that gap, while engaging children to observe the nature around them. At the end of the project, the participating schools will get certificates and a chance to get a copy of the Field Guide to Indian moths by V. Shubhalaxmi, for their school libraries.
This is the first year of the project and we expect it to gain momentum with time. We are targeting around 10-12 schools participating this year, with the hope that the turnout and the enthusiasm will pick up pace in due time. Being a moth-biologist myself and as the country coordinator of National Moth Week, this project has a personal motivation to instil moth-watching in kids and make them curious about the biodiversity around them. It has become imperative to start appreciating the insect biodiversity around, even if that is focussed on one particular group, in a time where we are losing insect biodiversity at a faster rate than ever before. So, gear up and make your observations count!
For more details, check the link below:
Dr. Pritha Dey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India.
You can contact her Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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