Marie Romano, an elementary-school science teacher in West New York, N.J., ordered cecropia moth cocoons so that her fifth-graders could learn about the moth's life cycle. Ms. Romano assumed moth cocoons would be as attractive as the monarch butterfly's chrysalis, another exhibit in her classroom. Instead, she says, the cocoons looked like dead leaves.
Inside the brown cocoons were pupae that had once been caterpillars. For more than six months, cecropia pupae remain in a resting state. Then, in their final four weeks late in spring, they transform into stunning moths. When the temperature has been warm long enough, the adult moths emerge.
And one day – – Ms. Romano and her students arrived at school and discovered that one of their cecropia moths had emerged in the classroom's container. The next day, another moth appeared, and then another, all boasting five- to seven-inch wingspans.
As word traveled, other students, teachers, and parents came to see the large, colorful moths in Ms. Romano's classroom.
"They said, 'Are you sure these are moths?' I said, 'Yeah, this is a moth.' They're just not used to it," Ms. Romano says.
The cecropias help connect children with their natural environment, says Charlene Ackerman. For 10 years, she and the teachers at the Paul K. Kennedy Child Care Center in North Chicago, Ill., have stored moth cocoons in insect cages.
"We've never seen it emerge," says Ms. Ackerman, who is the center's past executive director. "We watch and we watch and we wait and we hope and, then, all of sudden, there he is."
The 4- and 5-year-old children handle the moth at special times in the classroom and on the playground. They are fearless, Ms. Ackerman says.