Butterflies come in many different colors and patterns. You can help your child learn about butterflies (and even one very special migrating butterfly—the monarch) by rearing butterflies and creating a butterfly garden where butterflies will come for a drink of sweet nectar.
Skills: Making observations; collecting and recording data; care of plants and animals
What to Do
What you will need:
- obtain monarch caterpillars or eggs (see below)
- a renewable, fresh supply or potted milkweed
- clear plastic containers with an open top (upright containers are best if you are rearing monarch from eggs)
- fine wire mesh and elastics to secure the mesh to the open top of the container
- Obtain monarch eggs or caterpillars either by collecting them or by ordering, such as on ButterflyBushes.com or MonarchWatch.org. Make sure to have a source of fresh milkweed to provide food to the caterpillars.
- Wash the plastic containers with water (no soap) and dry carefully. Place the caterpillar and milkweed in the container. Cover the top with wire mesh so the caterpillar will have somewhere to attach when it goes into the chrysalis phase. The milkweed will need to be changed out for fresh stalks every two days and make sure to clean out the waste pellets at the same time.
- Once the caterpillar goes into chrysalis, you can remove the milkweed if you wish. The caterpillar will attach to the wire mesh and go into the chrysalis stage (which looks like a little green oval). It will stay in this stage for 14 days before emerging as a butterfly! Once the butterfly has emerged, it will need to be released within the same day. Take the container outside and help your child release the butterfly.
- During the process, keep the container in a spot where your child can see it everyday and talk about the progress of the caterpillar’s change into a butterfly (some ideas for discussion include the growing size of the caterpillar, the transformation to chrysalis, the change of the chrysalis from green to clear and the emergence of the adult butterfly).
Take It Further
Growing a butterfly garden:
This can be done outside in the yard, or in flower boxes that can be placed outside a window or door.
- Window flower boxes
- Some butterfly nectar plant seeds or seedlings (ex: butterfly bush, marigold, common milkweed). Note that these should be specific to your geographic location.
Follow the directions for planting your butterfly garden plants. Once the plants are in bloom, you should be able to observe butterflies in your own garden. Note that depending on the climate in your area, the most observations will be made starting in late spring until early fall. In warmer climates, observations may be almost year-round.
More Ways to Discover and Learn
Go on an Adventure: Observing Butterflies
Visit a city garden to observe butterflies and caterpillars. How many different colors and patterns of butterfly wings can your child observe? Have him color and copy the pattern of as many different kinds of butterflies as possible. Help your child compare and contrast the differences in the butterflies you see at the garden (ie: is one brighter or duller than another).
Take along a butterfly guide like Peterson First Guide to Butterflies and Moths and see if you and your child can identify some of the butterflies by the colors and patterns they have recorded. Try to identify plants that butterflies might be attracted to for food such as milkweed, golden rod, etc.
Provide your child with a plain paper notebook and color crayons. Have your child make and label drawings of some butterflies that are native to the region (these can be found in the butterfly field guide). Have him write down descriptions of the butterflies he sees outside. Add these drawings and descriptions to a journal on a regular basis. Encourage your child to share the journal with other family members.
- Migration: The movement of animals from one place to another on a regular basis
- Generation: The act of producing offspring (ie: the new generation(s) of Monarchs will migrate back to North America from Mexico)
- Proboscis: A long tube that is used by the butterfly to eat and drink
- Wing: A body part used for flying
- Chrysalis: A pupa of a moth or butterfly enclosed in case or cocoon.
- Pupa: An insect in the inactive stage of development (when it is not feeding) intermediate between larva and adult stages.
Look in a Book
By Gail Gibbons. Holiday House, 1991.
From Caterpillar to Butterfly.
By Deorah Heiligman. Illustrated by Bari Weissman. Collins, 1996.
Where Butterflies Grow (Picture Puffins)
By Joanne Ryder. Illustrated by Lynne Cherry. Puffin, 1996.
Other Resources for Parents
All about Monarch butterflies: MonarchWatch.org
Identifying different species of butterfly: Discoverlife.org