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Butterflies and bugs galore

Visit the Bugseum at Insect Lore in Shafter to give your child a day of buggy excitement

Posted: August 12, 2010 3:26 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Andrea Quitt, a second-grade teacher at Fair Oaks Ranch Community School, releases the classroom’s butterflies. The butterflies were released in May after the students witnessed their growth from caterpillars.

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Come spring in the Santa Clarita Valley, butterflies fly free across the schoolyards as teachers at area elementary schools release hundreds grown in classrooms — part of the life-cycle science-education curriculum.

Parents who visit these classrooms during “Open House” will occasionally find the butterflies still perched inside their “Butterfly Garden Pavilion” habitats.

Ladybugs thrive in “Ladybug Land,” a praying mantis is kneeling inside the “Praying Mantis Pagoda” as ants tunnel through the “Ant Hill” and the “Earthworm Nursery” nurtures its crawly critters.

Butterflies, meal worms, silkworms, amphibians and more are just a few of the life forms studied by SCV students.

Where do teachers find these creepy crawlies and fluttering flyers?

Insect Lore, founded in 1969, is often the answer.

“We’ve been around for 40 years. Our first kit was our butterfly kit which we began selling in 1969,­” said Kurt Hettinger, Insect Lore self-described “communications guru and all-around nice guy.”

During a recent tour of Insect Lore, and its attached Bugseum and Visitor Center, entire families could be found exploring the facility which is an easy drive of about 90 minutes from the SCV.

In addition to a variety of Insect Lore products for sale the Bugseum offers views of the ladybug and butterfly nurseries as well as a giant ant farm mounted inside a wall and dozens of grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, tarantulas and other bug displays.

“We plan to move our picking room next door so we can expand the Bugseum,” said Hettinger. Plans for the expansion include a butterfly atrium with ponds, waterfalls and running water.

“We want it to have kind of a rainforest feel,” said Hettinger. “It would make sense to have several biomes, desert, mountains, tropical.”

Insect Lore began modestly,  and for 20 years the company only sold the butterfly kit.

The kit, which can be purchased in various sizes, includes a coupon to mail in when you are ready to raise your butterflies.
Larvae are then mailed, which are placed into the enclosure. Food is also provided.

Insect Lore was founded in Shafter — just a few miles off the I-5 freeway after driving over the Grapevine — by Carlos White, an entomologist. He had an idea to create a kit by which people could witness the metamorphosis of a live butterfly.

Hettinger said the Painted Lady butterfly was chosen as Insect Lore’s butterfly for several reasons.

“It is the most domesticated butterfly,” he said. “It is found nearly everywhere except in the polar regions, so we can ship it throughout the United States, and our European division can ship it throughout Europe — so we can know we’re not introducing a butterfly where it is not found naturally.”

Hettinger said most butterflies are carnivorous, and when they are “in a little cup” they will eat each other.

“Painted Ladies won’t do that,” he said.

In the past 40-plus years, more than 11,000,000 caterpillars have been shipped from Insect Lore’s facilities in Shafter and Milton Keynes, England.

“The butterfly kit remains our biggest seller,” said Hettinger. “The praying mantis kit can only be shipped between January and early April, but it has been hugely popular. People wonder why they can’t get it all year round. However, you can’t make a praying mantis produce eggs.”

Hettinger said school tours, home-school students and families who wish a private behind-the-scenes tour of the Bugseum are always welcome. Guests are asked to call in advance so a “bug expert” can be on hand to lead the tours.

“We love to have groups of home-schoolers visit us,” said Hettinger. “They can see the products before buying and we can provide an educational experience for them.”

Families and small groups are welcome to drop by the Bugseum any time as they travel along the I-5 corridor through California.

Andrea Quitt, a second-grade teacher at Fair Oaks Ranch Community School in Canyon Country, has been raising and releasing butterflies for six years in her classroom.

“It is so special to do these. The children still enjoy it even if they’ve done it before in younger grades,” she said. “It never gets old. Everyone is still excited to watch the butterflies fly free.”

Quitt said the butterflies and other live insect displays are an important part of the plant and animal life-cycle curriculum.

“This is such a fascinating metamorphosis,” she said. “The students learn the difference between what is a chrysalis and what is a cocoon. Butterflies make a chrysalis and silkworms a cocoon. Silkworms become moths.”

Student Yousaf Khilji was able to hold a butterfly perched on his hand before it soared off into the sky.

“It was shaking on my  hand,” he said. “It tickled. I was afraid a bird was going to come and eat it.”

Quitt said the entire process from larvae to butterfly takes about a month.

“It takes about two weeks for the caterpillars to eat and then go into a chrysalis, then another week to 10 days to emerge,” she said. “We keep them for a few days as butterflies before we release them to complete their life cycle in the wild.”

Wendy Poore, a first- and second-grade teacher at Fair Oaks Ranch Community School, said her students become fascinated with the live bugs.

“Because they love this so much, they write with so much more expression,” she said. “They are interesting in exploring mathematical equations based on this process — calendar, measurement, prediction. They can come up with a hypothesis.

They are actively engaged in learning.”

Hettinger said his children learned how to take care of a living creature.

“They really loved their butterflies,” he said.

Poore said the lessons learned include teaching children that life does have a “cycle.”

“It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and that it extends  not just to insects but also to our pets and to us,” said Poore.

“Because they are having a hands on experience with these critters they really understand life has a cycle. And that’s okay.”

Insect Lore also produces many other insect, plant and animal education related materials and games.

For more information about Insect Lore and the Bugseum visit www.insectlore.com.

 

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