Manduca sexta: Caterpillar Dissection

Caterpillars have an amazing, yet tough job to perform in their short lives — eat much, avoid predators, and try not to let all those comments about being the unattractive stage of the life cycle get to them. How do they handle it all? Let your young zoologists have a look inside as they dissect the system that makes it all possible, the central nervous system.

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Instructional Ideas

  • Prior to distributing lab materials, show a brief video of the Tobacco Hornworm in their natural habitat
  • Assign research regarding the Tobacco Hornworm before executing the dissection, so that pupils understand why the resulting moth should not be released
Classroom Considerations

  • As written, the lab makes use of live caterpillars, which are then submerged in an ice water bath prior to dissection; preserved specimens could be used instead of live, if you do not wish to expand the lesson by allowing caterpillars to pupate
  • Be sure to order enough specimens to include all working groups
Pros

  • The experiment is structured to promote big-picture learning over a range of life science topics
  • The guide contains all printable materials, questions for discussion, and an extension plan
Cons

  • None