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Educating Our Youth with Honshu White Admiral Butterflies

Waikato District Council, in collaboration with MWLR and Enviroschools, has initiated a weed biocontrol education programme for schools in the Waikato District. Enviroschools is an environmental action-based programme that empowers young people to design and lead sustainability projects in their schools and neighbourhoods.
Arnaud helping with gorse seed pods

Arnaud helping with gorse seed pods

The focus of this initiative is to teach our next generation about the benefits and practicalities of weed biocontrol. MWLR staff were asked to provide training for schoolchildren in the Waikato district using projects designed for both the field and the classroom. Three schools in the area participated in the introductory phase of the project, where children were taught how to care for Honshu white admiral butterflies (Limenitis glorifica), and later how to release them in areas invaded by its weedy host plant, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica).

A few weeks ago, in April, Hugh Gourlay and Arnaud Cartier visited three schools in the Hamilton region (Tauwhare, Tamahere and Otaua) and spoke to children between ages 6 and 12 at each school. Hugh talked about what makes a weed, how big the problem is in New Zealand, and how biocontrol can help, with particular emphasis on prominent weeds in the Waikato.

As part of the practical component of the project, each class was presented with young Honshu white admiral caterpillars and a few eggs, which they were required to hatch, feed and rear in cages with Japanese honeysuckle plants. Adrienne Grant (Enviroschools NZ), a local advocate for restoration projects, helped to set up the cages with potted Japanese honeysuckle plants in each classroom prior to the arrival of the caterpillars. Adrienne also collected foliage from local Japanese honeysuckle plants for the children to maintain in glass jars, so they had more fresh food available for the caterpillars. With winter nearing, the caterpillars will soon start preparing to overwinter so they shouldn’t be too hungry. The children were given a chance to look at the butterfly eggs under the microscope and, for a lucky few, to watch them hatch. Also, as part of the class activity, Hugh handed out gorse (Ulex europaeus) pods to open to see if they could find a caterpillar of the gorse pod moth (Cydia succedana). Almost every seed pod had a moth caterpillar, much to the excitement and engagement of the children.

Children looking at Honshu white admiral caterpillars

Children looking at Honshu white admiral caterpillars

“All in all, it was a successful start to the programme, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, especially me and the kids!” said Hugh. “The next step will be for the children to release the successfully reared caterpillars when they turn into butterflies next spring, which will be another wonderful learning experience,” he added.

Follow-up initiatives will build on this pilot project and will explore more educational opportunities to include weed biocontrol in classroom- and field-based activities at these schools.

This project is funded by the Environmental initiatives Fund and Waikato District Council.