Want to use Caterpillar Conundrum in the classroom? Download the project instructions, including a worksheet and certificate, here.

Here’s a few ideas that pair to the curriculum – but we are sure you would have many more!

Foundation year: Living things have basic needs, including food and water (ACSSU002)

Whilst rearing your caterpillars in the classroom, activities can focus around the needs of the caterpillar compared to the needs of the adult moth or butterfly. Activities could then branch to what they need to survive compared to other animals. Or even to what plants need to survive compared to animals.

Each species of caterpillar tend to only eat specific plants, so have tightly defined food needs. They get most of their water requirements from the leaves of plants, so they don’t need drink water like a human or dog does. An adult moth or butterfly doesn’t eat leaves like a caterpillar. Instead, they mostly drinks nectar from flowers, but can also eat tree sap, dung, pollen, or rotting fruit to get their nutritional requirements.

Year 1: Living things have a variety of external features (ACSSU017)

Students can study the external features of different caterpillars, and then compare them to the adult moth or butterflies. For example, both caterpillars and butterflies have six true legs attached to the thorax, but caterpillars often have extra prolegs, or ‘pretend legs’. These extra legs are not jointed and are attached to the abdomen to help with movement or attachment to plants.

Year 2: Living things grow, change and have offspring similar to themselves (ACSSU030)

A caterpillar will grow slowly, getting bigger as it eats. It won’t look very different as it grows, until it goes through the radical changes of metamorphosis. A caterpillar will form a pupa in which it digests itself into ‘caterpillar soup’ from which the adult form is developed. The adult has changed a lot from the caterpillar! This could be compared to other insects, such as stick insects, which keep the same general shape and form as they develop from egg to adult.

Year 3: Living things can be grouped on the basis of observable features and can be distinguished from non-living things (ACSSU044)

Activities could focus around how students would group different insects together. An interesting discussion would be whether they would group caterpillars and butterflies with the same insects. Some students might group insects by whether they have wings or not – in which case a butterfly and a caterpillar would end up in different groups. When entomologists were classifying the insects, they compared the same life-cycle stage so that they didn’t run into this problem!

Year 4: Living things have life cycles (ACSSU072)

Both the lifecycle of the butterfly and the lifecycle of a parasitoid wasp could be investigated and compared to different animals. Parasites and parasitoids have very interesting lifecycles, and offer a really nice comparison to a simple lifecycle like that of a dog or cat.

Year 5: Living things have structural features and adaptations that help them to survive in their environment (ACSSU043)

A significant threat to the survival of a caterpillar is predation. Caterpillars have evolved a variety of features and adaptation to avoid predators, including camouflage and warning colouration. Activities could look at different caterpillars and determine their adaptations. Are they mimicking a leaf or twig? Or are they brightly coloured and advertising to predators that they might be poisonous?

Year 6: The growth and survival of living things are affected by the physical conditions of their environment (ACSSU094)

When designing the enclosure for your caterpillar rearing, activities or discussions could focus around what physical conditions need to mirror the environment where you found the caterpillar. If the caterpillar is happy outside in normal daytime temperatures, do students think it would survive in the fridge? Or in the oven? Does the caterpillar need fresh air? What would happen if there was no air? We don’t condone testing these things, but they are interesting discussion points. If a caterpillar dies during rearing, you could ask students to discuss what might have caused it – was there a physical condition you were unable to control?

Year 7: Interactions between organisms can be described in terms of food chains and food webs; human activity can affect these interactions (ACSSU112)

The food webs involved for both the caterpillar and the parasitoid can be investigated. How does the parasitoid fit into the food web? What would happen if there were no parasitoids? Hint: Caterpillar populations would get larger and larger, plants would decline, the other animals which feed on those plants would be lacking a food source, the animals which feed on THOSE animals might then suffer… also, any animals which feed on caterpillars would have more food than normal, so their populations might get larger, affecting other animals or plants in turn. A single species can have a huge impact on a food web.