Butterflies interact with visitors at Guilderland's Farnsworth Middle School.
Every year, Farnsworth Middle School gets a shipment of caterpillar eggs.
And then the fun begins.
Students at the school raise butterflies, which they move into the butterfly house in a courtyard at the school. The butterflies mate, and soon the house is full of colorful creatures -- never moreso than this year, when a bumper crop of butterflies has been fluttering around.
The butterfly station is open to the public for one final week, wrapping things up on Friday, Aug. 12. Head over to the school between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and you’ll get a glimpse not only of butterflies, but of kids who willingly giving up part of their summer vacation to teach people more about butterflies.
“What makes this special is that it’s student run,” said science teacher Jennifer Ford, who helps oversee the station.
On a recent afternoon, Ford stayed largely in the background, letting the students guide tours, paint faces, explain the metamorphosis process and run the gift shop and museum. She has complete confidence in her helpers, noting that each must go through a week of training before they can take part.
Andrea Musteata is going into seventh grade. She decided to spend part of her summer back at school because she likes butterflies which was evident as she led a tour of the butterfly house. Musteata explained that because of the recent rainy weather, a lot of the butterflies were in hiding. Even when they did emerge, it wasn’t necessarily easy for them to fly because the rain had sapped their flight power, she said.
Those that did fly swooped around the butterfly house, sometimes grazing or even landing on visitors. Musteata told everyone not to be startled if they found a butterfly on them. In fact, more than once, she reached for a butterfly and coaxed it on to her hand. Then she asked visitors if anyone wanted to hold it, carefully transferring it to that person’s hand.
Musteata detailed how to tell the difference between male and female monarch butterflies -- the male has “perfume” spots -- noted that painted lady butterflies are so small that they’re hard to see, pointed out the colorful flowers in the garden that butterflies enjoy and paused at a memorial to the Space Shuttle Columbia, recalling how Farnsworth students had sent plants native to the Albany Pine Bush to the shuttle crew to take into space.
Outside the butterfly house, Musteata said toads are sometimes spotted nearby, and students try to chase them away lest they harm the butterflies.
“We don’t hurt the toads,” she said, explaining that they’re put in a nearby swamp. “They are alive. They’re animals. It’s not their fault.”
Down the hallway from the butterfly house is the metamorphosis room, where dozens of caterpillars are stored in plastic containers. The caterpillars, of course, eventually turn into butterflies and are moved outside. Visitors get to see the caterpillars in various stages of metamorphosis.
They can also make a butterfly craft in another room, where students help and paint faces. Lauren Boyce doesn’t have a lot to do over the summer and thought helping at the butterfly station would be fun, so now she manages the arts and crafts room,cleaning it up and keeping an eye on supplies.
Ford said some students enjoy the station so much that they come back even after they graduate from middle school. A college student even recently contacted her and asked if she could put in some hours at the station before her summer job started. Ford said there was a waiting list for helpers this year.
The station is largely funded by grants. It’s been harder in recent years to find as much money, but so far, the station has been lucky. This is its 13th year.
Farnsworth Middle School is at 6072 State Farm Road in Guilderland. Students inside the main entrance can direct visitors where to go.