Swallowtails and a Teacher who teaches a Family

SONY DSCWhile it seems obvious to say that teachers touch the lives of students, what is not said very often, if at all, is that teachers also have a way of making a difference to an entire family.

We have about 20-30 swallow tail caterpillars in our butterfly net cage.

No, that last sentence doesn’t belong in a totally different post. Let me continue. . .

We have swallowtail caterpillars because when Scott was cutting the grass Saturday morning he excitedly called the kids over to a place in the yard where the weeds were as tall as our two year old.


A year ago, my husband had no idea what a swallowtail caterpillar was or even looked like. God Bless Scott, but his idea of wilderness is an uncut rough on the side of the 16th fairway.

Okay, maybe he’s not that bad, and truth be told, last year I didn’t know what a swallowtail caterpillar or butterfly was either.

But, Maddie had Mrs. Eoff and Mrs. Eoff is all about nature. Her classroom is as close to a zoo as you can have and still not be required to have a full time vet on staff.

SONY DSCLast Spring, Maddie found a black caterpillar with red spots. MOM! IT’S A SWALLOWTAIL! One of this creature’s brethren had been Mrs. Eoff’s latest entry into the classroom preserve.

Into our butterfly enclosure went our caterpillar.

We researched what swallowtails ate and tried to find those plants in the field next to our house. In a few days we watched in amazement as that caterpillar climbed the gray stick we stuck in the enclosure and turned into a brownish chrysalis right before our eyes.

We put the enclosure on the kitchen counter eager to watch the butterfly emerge.  And we watched and watched and watched and. . .nothing happened. Actually, the chrysalis seemed to dry up and begin to decay.

I was just about to throw it out. . .admitting animal planet failure. . .when I looked up from washing dishes one afternoon and THERE WAS A BUTTERFLY.

SCOTT! I yelled. THERE’S A BUTTERFLY! He raced into the kitchen from his office.

We felt like proud parents all over again.  We even took a video of the darn thing—we were that amazed. I inserted a juicy cut-up orange into the enclosure as a congratulatory gesture–it had been in that chrysalis for  weeks without any food or water!


When the children came home from school that afternoon they released the butterfly into the field, following it as it bounced from plant to plant until it flew over the trees and they lost sight of it.

SONY DSCThis year Will has Mrs. Eoff. It is a match made in heaven as he has a penchant for anything bug/lizard/grub/spider/caterpillar related. Early in the year he carried oversized grubs dug up in my garden back and forth to school for an entire week. Unfortunately, Mrs. Eoff was absent for most of that week and the substitute didn’t demonstrate the same enthusiasm for oversized grubs that Mrs. Eoff would have. So, every morning Will dutifully set off with his slimy treasures in a plastic bug box filled with almost-done compost, hoping that that would be the day of her return and they could both share in the excitement of giant grubs.

Which leads me back to the swallowtails in the backyard on Saturday.

SONY DSC SONY DSCThe kids collected as many as they could. Even Marc, who was pouting inside over some parental infraction, ran happily outside when he heard about the treasure trove of swallowtail caterpillars—forgetting why he was mad in the first place. They filled the butterfly cage with them and Scott went to Google a picture of “milkweed” so that we could scour the filled for this delicacy of the swallowtail.


SONY DSCAll week we have been finding new stems and leaves for our caterpillars—and watching to see if any of them are ready to turn into a chrysalis.

And–this is my point: Without Mrs. Eoff, most likely Scott would have just run his lawn mower over the weeds and chalked up the caterpillars as a form of backyard road kill.

Mrs. Eoff, though, taught the entire family about this loveliest of butterflies and we are better for knowing. We have learned how to identify the caterpillars, how to identify their habitat and  collect their food, how to patiently wait even when the chrysalis seems shriveled up.

As a family, like last year, we will marvel at how they cocoon themselves and we will revel in their breaking through–and we will cheer when we release them into the field and they fly away.

Truly, hasn’t Mrs. Eoff just given us a lesson in life?



I am a mother of two sets of twins and a singleton. I explore the wild world of multiples and provide resources for other parents of multiples.
  1. Having read your post, this was the most amazing afternoon in our backyard. And every day since, the kids race to the backyard when they get home to see how the swallowtail farm is coming along. I love that they all have increased their and our knowledge about the beauty and reality of re-creation in our busy lives. Truly these are handiwork of an amazing God.

    1. This literally brought me to tears. : ) I hope I have this affect not only on my students but on their families. I am the only teacher in our school that has class pets (frogs and fish) and I wanted to give up on them for next year, but I forget that it really is meaningful for kids to have those experiences…especially for kids who don’t have parents that invest the time and join in on the learning outside of the classroom like you two. What great parents!! I hope you share this article with Mrs. Eoff because as you know teachers work very hard for little appreciation. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!!

      1. Madison–I KNOW that you are THAT KIND OF TEACHER, too! Even in your “pre-teaching” days you were always about providing the children with new and interesting experiences! Now you are doing that and more for the 20+ students and their families that you encounter every day! Children don’t get enough nature these days–it takes a teacher like you to show them that even the smallest of creatures have something to teach us. DON’T GIVE up those animals in your classroom! They are your co-teachers!

  2. You are such a good writer Michelle. I thought you were a great teacher and I bet you are a fantastic mom.

    1. Thanks Christine! I miss working with you!

  3. As soon as I saw the title “Swallowtails” I gasped cos we found a bunch here at home outside last week and even today! I thought they were so interesting so i researched them last week and found out they were swallow tails so as soon as i saw the word I was like wow! Im not alone. I have a butterfly net like the one you have to put them in but was nervous to try gathering them and feeding them and seeing them become butterflies just because we’ve never done it and I dont want my son to see them die on us. My email is alvina_castro@yahoo.com and Im in San Antonio too if you can I would love some info on what plants you found they liked or just tip so maybe we could try it. Thanks for any!

    1. Alvina,

      We think the swallowtails like the milkweed plants the best. Do you still have your caterpillars?

  4. Wow!!

    1. You’re the best, Mrs. Eoff! Thanks for all you’ve done for our children and our family!

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