The days are getting warmer, the forests are filling with flowers, and there's a buzzing in the air. It's time to start safeguarding your picnics from the hungriest of insects, our May Star Species, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Nestle down in the long grass of the meadow, spread out your picnic and select the juiciest plum, or the reddest strawberries. We've teamed up with Puffin Books to take you and your littlest explorers on a crawl through the magical world of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
What is a caterpillar?
Some are furry, some are spotty, a few look spiky and the sneakier ones even look like the leaves they are eating. But, they all have one thing in common - caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths.
That is to say, they are butterflies going through childhood. And just like our own toddlers, they have to eat as much as they can, so they have the energy to grow and move on to the next stage of their life cycle.
How much do caterpillars really eat?
The caterpillar in Eric Carle's book ate his way through lots of fresh healthy fruit. He ate an apple, pears, plums, strawberries and oranges. It sounds like such a lot of food – but actually, some caterpillars can eat up to 27,000 times their own weight.
Where can you find the Very Hungry Caterpillar?
One of the joys of staying in the forest is that there are plenty of places to go bug hunting. Bugs and caterpillars love hiding under logs, in trees or on the leaves and stems of plants.
The jet-black larva of the peacock butterfly found throughout the UK, build a communal web at the top of the plant, so look out for cobwebs. Baby brimstone butterflies, on the other hand, appear to have a much better camouflage, being the same green as the leaves they feed on. But it's their scoffing that gives them away. Turn over a leaf full of holes and nibbled edges, and discover the sneaky green caterpillar hiding beneath.
• Although the Very Hungry Caterpillar was a very greedy caterpillar, most are actually quite picky eaters and stick to one or two types of leaf.
• Some caterpillars can be poisonous, taking their poison from the food they eat. They use it to scare predators away, so be careful. The more brightly coloured it is, the more likely to be poisonous.
• Caterpillars are super strong - they have up to 4,000 muscles. But they don't have any bones.
• Some caterpillars, such as the elephant hawk-moth, can swim.
• The Very Hungry Caterpillar is 48 years old, but still entertaining children with his munching antics today.
The beautiful butterfly
After munching through leaves, a caterpillar uses all its energy to build a cocoon and, eventually, to turn into a beautiful butterfly.
Of course, we know that caterpillars aren't a species of their own - but there are 59 species of butterflies in the UK. How many can you find while you're out exploring and bug hunting? See if the children can find any butterflies that look like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Was he blue, like the holly blue, or perhaps he had striking eye patterns like the peacock butterfly?
Butterflies love warm, sunny spots, and beautiful wildflowers. They also love nettles - just watch out for stings.
As for the Very Hungry Caterpillar, join the Forest Ranger on a Mini Forest Ranger adventure. The little ones can use their Mini Beasts pots to catch their own caterpillar for a closer look. If you can't find the Very Hungry Caterpillar outside, you'll find him among our selection of Eric Carle books back in the Forest Retreat, free to read over tea and cakes, and on sale in the shop to take home.