A Parasitic Wasp, a Caterpillar, and a STEM Lesson to Remember

Karina Buhler STEM lesson

Karina Buhler during a recent STEM lesson with our after school students.

Sometimes the relationships we find in nature are as bizarre and fascinating as anything that a science fiction writer could dream up. Take, for example, the way a parasitic wasp can turn a caterpillar into a surrogate womb and a baby bodyguard.

It’s a strange story, and a great learning opportunity.

Karina Buhler, our STEM Program Assistant who specializes in environmental science, recently taught a lesson to our after school students that featured the video below. This was a way into the study of predator-prey relationships and symbiotic relationships that included parasitism, mutualism, and commensalism.

Our students were engaged and vocal throughout the lesson, and extremely interested in the video, which shows how one type of wasp larvae grow inside a caterpillar before emerging through its skin. Amazingly, the caterpillar not only survives this ordeal but also helps to spin a cocoon for the larvae and stands guard against predators while the wasps transform. When Karina handed out an interactive worksheet to test their knowledge, they were excited to show what they had learned and eager to help their peers.

This lesson is likely to come in especially handy for our high school students, whose Regents exams will feature both biology and ecology this year, and it’s another example of the clever ways our STEM teachers get our students interested in science.