I spent quite a few years resisting the idea of classroom pets. I mean, let’s face it, I have three kids, one husband and two dogs at home. I don’t need something else to take care of! Over time, my colleagues have had classroom pets – fish, turtles, lizards and, infamously, snakes (there’s a whole blog post in itself). And, even though they’re teenagers, there’s a constant clamor from the students: “Miss, why don’t you get a (insert “simple” critter here)?”
I need low-maintenance. I can barely keep plants alive. I would feel guilty if I allowed a poor defenseless critter to die just because it had the misfortune to be in my classroom.
A couple of years ago, I hit upon the perfect low-maintenance classroom pet. I went to a workshop for AP Environmental Science. The leader had us do a lab using pillbugs to demonstrate animal behavior. The leader had flown in from another state, and had no interest in packing up the pillbugs for his return trip, so he offered them to the participants. Surprisingly (NOT), no one else wanted the pillbugs, so I took them and set up a habitat. I’ll post another time about my pillbugs.
A couple of weeks ago, some students brought one of my colleagues a moth the students had found. In a turn of events I still don’t understand, I ended up with this moth. I didn’t even know what kind of moth it was. It set in a jar in my classroom all day. Honestly, my original intention was to get through the day, then release the moth outside my back door as soon as all the students left. I soon felt guilty, though, that my colleague had entrusted this moth to me. The least I could do was find out what kind of moth it was and make sure it could survive in the wild. And make sure it wasn’t an invasive species – as much as I harp on my students about not releasing invasive species into the wild, I’d hate to be a hypocrite on the matter, even unintentionally.
This is my moth friend. I spent a few minutes on Google Images and quickly determined that this moth is a female Automeris io lilith, a species common in the southeastern US. Cool! But what do I have to feed it? A little more research showed that the adult moths don’t eat – their function is basically to reproduce. I had no idea whether this moth had mated before she was captured, but I decided to set up a habitat anyway. The packrat from whom I inherited my classroom left a screened cage (oops, forgot to take a picture of that), so I added some paper towels, some branches from a tree outside my classroom, and some leaves.
This week I checked on my moth and saw . . EGGS! I am such a science nerd that this was cause for much excitement! She has been laying eggs throughout the course of the week in little clumps. I suspect she was laying them on the screen on the sides of the cage, but they were falling to the bottom of the cage.
I had students research how long it would take for the eggs to hatch. If the 15-20 days estimate is correct, we might get to see some caterpillars before school lets out for the summer. That will lead to my next dilemma – the instars for Automeris io lilith sting. Bad idea for the classroom! Since this species is native, I will probably find a nice area outside and release them and let nature take its course.
If you want more information about Automeris io lilith, here is where I found most of my information: