The first thing you have to do when you decide to hatch eggs in your classroom, is to figure out what you’re going to do with the animals when you’re finished with them.
In most cases, you cannot release the animals into the wild unless you collected them there. Never release animals purchased from a biological supply or pet store. Birds can never be released into the wild, because they’ve imprinted on humans. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years:
Silkworm Eggs: You don’t have to worry about this problem with silkworms, because the moths die after they lay their eggs. In fact, you can collect the eggs, put them in the refrigerator, and use them for next year’s hatch. You will have a perpetual source of silkworm eggs. You can even make a display of the cycle for your science center. Silkworms are the easiest critters I’ve ever hatched and raised, and the only ones where you can observe the entire life cycle, from egg to egg!
Butterfly Eggs: Butterflies can be released into the wild after hatching them in your classroom, ONLY if you collected the eggs there. If you’re lucky enough to find eggs on a plant in the yard, make sure you have a good supply of the leaves because the larvae will probably eat the leaves of the plant you found them on. Butterflies only live for a few weeks.
Frog and Toad Eggs: Frogs and toads can be released into the wild IF you collect the eggs from the wild. If you live near a waterway, or know someone who has a water garden, you can often collect eggs there. After they have hatched and matured, you can release them back to the same place where you collected them. DON”T EVER release frogs and toads purchased from biological supply or pet stores.
NOTE: If you bought the eggs, you CAN’T release them into the wild! You can only do this when you hatch the eggs you collected, and you return them to the same place. Introducing non native species to an area can cause many problems and is certainly the wrong message for our students!
Chicken Eggs: Hatching chicken eggs requires special equipment, monitoring, and lots of care, and you need to provide a home for the chicks when you are through with them. Make arrangements for this before you begin the process of preparing to incubate eggs. It should be the first thing you take care of. If you want the students to care for the chicks for a few weeks, it becomes harder to find a good home for them. Here are some steps to take to help you find a good home.
- Look in the phone book for people who professionally raise chickens or provide fresh eggs—they may be happy to take your birds. These people can be a great resource, and are often willing to provide fertilized eggs for you to hatch. (I got my first batch of chicken eggs this way. Only one egg hatched, but that was a good thing – it made the whole process much easier my first time around.)
- Contact the Extension services of a local university that has an animal science division.
- If you are willing to give the chicks up a few days after they hatch, you may be able to give them to a feed store. They sell chicks to farmers in the spring. Check with some stores in your area.
- Contact your local 4-H organization.
- Talk to the County Extension agent.
- Check with your local Humane Society.
If you don’t have a home for the chicks, don’t hatch the eggs!
Duck eggs: Ducklings were the most fun and had the best hatch rate of all the eggs I’ve worked with, but they are twice as much work as chickens, and exceedingly messy. They are much harder to place at the end of the unit – they cannot be released into the wild because they have imprinted on humans – so don’t even consider raising ducklings unless you have a good home for them already set up. (Follow the same steps listed above for finding homes for chickens.)
If you don’t have a home for the ducklings, don’t hatch the eggs!
Quail Eggs: I didn’t enjoy my experience with quail eggs, so I don’t recommend them. The birds pecked each other, even after I bought a special bulb that was supposed to make them stop, they were not very friendly, and they were very competent flyers. It was hard to catch them, so the students couldn’t handle them easily. They also can’t be released into the wild, so finding a home for them is very difficult. You need someone with an aviary.
Even with all the difficulties involved with finding homes for your hatched animals, the process is so worth the effort! The hardest part of the unit is finding a home for your little lovelies, so be sure to do that first!