The Ugly Duckling of the Bug World

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

The Ugly Duckling of the Bug World

October 3, 2014

Butterflies are beautiful, but most don’t start out looking quite so nice. Before turning into butterflies they bumble around as caterpillars, most of which we don’t like in large numbers since they munch on the leaves of our favorite plants. Also, while some caterpillars are fuzzy and kind of cute, some are just plain ugly. The worst-looking one might be the Orange Dog caterpillar, which makes itself look like bird poop so birds and other animals won’t try to eat it; that kind of body disguise is called camouflage. The orange dog got its name because it likes to eat the leaves of citrus fruit plants, like oranges. It eventually becomes a beautiful swallowtail butterfly, and is one of the few butterflies whose caterpillar gets its own name. Maybe the swallowtail doesn’t want anyone to know that it used to look like that.

Wee ones: If you count 5 of these yucky caterpillars on an orange leaf, what numbers do you say?

Little kids: Swallowtail butterfly eggs take 5 to 7 days to hatch. If a female butterfly lays eggs on a Friday and they hatch 6 days later, on what day do they hatch?  Bonus: If you count 16 blobs of what looks like bird poop on your orange, but 3 blobs turn out to be caterpillars, how many blobs are unfortunately not?

Big kids: Butterflies lay about 100 eggs at a time. If all but 20 hatch successfully, how many babies (called larvae) come from the batch?  Bonus: If half of those become female butterflies and each of them lays 100 eggs of which 20 fail, how many new larvae in the next generation are born?

Answers:
Wee ones: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Little kids: The next Thursday.  Bonus: 13 blobs.

Big kids: 80.  Bonus: 3,200 larvae, since the 40 females each laid 80 eggs. (In real life the next generation wouldn’t be so big, since many larvae would die before becoming caterpillars or butterflies, or before laying eggs.)

And thank you Catherine M. for the topic and the awesome home-grown photo!

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking while still in diapers, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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