Sunday, March 22, 2009

#16 Butterfly in the Sky!

I took my second and third graders out for a pretty amazing Friday field trip…we went to the Butterfly Museum! Now, it probably won’t be exciting to people who think of museums like the Houston Museum of Natural Science or the Smithsonian’s anything. Museums in the developing world usually exist as a result of one person’s incredibly dedicated efforts, in this case that person’s name is Robert Lehman. Robert has been in Honduras since the 1960s, working in community development and teaching…and collecting bugs! He has been a wealth of cultural information for me and he was a wonderfully passionate teacher for my 16 kids, which he kindly did all for free. (That’s him in the headscarf in the pictures.)

Now, another note about museums in the developing world. There is not a plethora of expensive, hands-on exhibits or floor upon floor of displays. The butterfly museum is a large room built onto the back of Robert’s house here in La Ceiba. Three whole walls and 5 displays in the middle of the room are covered floor to ceiling with glass faced display cabinets holding over 13,000 insects, as well as informational displays about Honduran ecology, the life cycle of insects, where in the world all these crazy bugs come from, and where in the world all the crazy people have come from to look at them. 10,000 of the beautiful (and ugly) bugs come from right here in Honduras, many (maybe most) of them caught by Robert right here in the La Ceiba area.

My kids not only learned about bugs but also got the chance to see just how amazing the natural wealth of their country is. The largest moth in the world (1 foot wingspan) was found in my neighborhood! The Rio Cangrejal where my kids live hosts beautiful Blue Morphos and tricky Owl Eyes and the butterfly with the longest proboscis in the world. It was also a great chance to reinforce the idea of there being other countries and other places, as we got to see samples of insects from 6 of the continents including the world’s largest scorpion (Thailand can keep hosting that one…the ones in my classroom here in Honduras are big enough for me.)

The kids got to handle live bugs, too. There were two tarantulas, one of whom had just molted so we got to see her old “dress” as Robert called it. There was a Harlequin Beetle (the one with the ridiculously long front legs.) There were also Honduran rhinoceros beetles (which apparently live in the bathroom at night so that they can fly around.) Outside he was breeding grasshoppers (who happily munched away on his plants) and butterflies. He went out early that morning to some of the empty lots and collected with two nets which he then used to describe the collecting process to the kids before emptying them onto a sheet and letting them go at it finding insects, identifying what they knew and asking about ones they didn’t know.
My kids were wonderful. Other than a bit of watchful eye for running or absconding with crayons in their pockets and a pause for orange juice to get energy and attention going again (although I had brought an orange and a hunk of bread for each for breakfast…but they probably didn’t get much if any dinner the night before.) It was a typical Honduran day in that the electricity was out (due to repairs we are told…it’s been happening a lot lately.) Robert ran some lights off of two small gasoline generators he has, so we were without air conditioning and the day is forever mixed a bit with the smell of gasoline exhaust, but we were able to see all the exhibits and a good time was had by all (including two visiting US university students…who were hung over and not big fans of bugs but made a good face nonetheless.)

My favorite game of the day was “Catch the Cockroach” which Robert collects in order to feed the live scorpions and tarantulas. My kids showed no fear whatsoever and deftly caught it and got it back into the jar for him. (At which point the two US students agreed to descend from the chairs upon which they were perched.) It was great to have someone help to reinforce the idea of catching and releasing bugs (especially at school because the chickens will eat them!) My kids laughed at some of the myths that Robert said other people held and easily answered many questions that he said most city children couldn’t answer. It was amazing to provide them with such a wonderful educational experience and I can’t wait to do it again in the future with another couple of grades.

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