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There are over 150,000 different butterfly and moth species in the world. For each type of butterfly there is a unique caterpillar. Butterflies, like many other insects, play an important role in pollinating plants. Butterfly wingspans can range from less than inch wide to nearly a foot. Butterflies have two sets of wings, two forewings and two hind wings. The wings themselves are clear. The coloration comes from pigmented scales covering the wings.

What is a Butterfly/Moth? Moths and butterflies are insects. Insects have three body segments (head, thorax and abdomen); six legs; two antennae; and, they usually have wings. All insects are arthropods, which means they have jointed appendages. The wings and legs are attached to the butterfly’s (insect’s) thorax.


How To Develop Your Butterfly Science Story

Use the inquiry-based content development process to develop content.

In the process of asking questions and filling-in the blanks you will develop your science story.

 What is a butterfly?  How can we describe butterflies?  How are all butterflies the same?  How are they different?  How can we describe butterflies?  What are the parts of a butterfly?  What do we see in a butterfly's wing pattern?  How do the forewing and hindwing patterns compare?  What is symmetry?  How does the butterfly's wing pattern aid in its survival?  What is adaptation?  What are eyespots?  What is the purpose of eyespots?  Are eyespots unique to butterflies?  Where do you see butterflies?  What does a butterfly drink?
 How are butterflies and caterpillars related?  How are moths and butterflies related?  How can we compare them?  How are they the same or different in terms of appearance, behavior and lifecycle changes (cocoon vs. chrysalis)?  Where do butterflies come from?  What is a butterfly's lifecycle?  What is a lifecycle?  What is metamorphosis?  How does a butterfly change as it develops?  Are spiders insects?  Why aren't spiders insects?  How are spiders and insects related?  Do insects have five senses?  How are they the same or different than our senses?  Why are butterflies important?  What if there were no butterflies?


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Developing Science Stories


A Note About Caterpillars...

At first glance, it would seem that caterpillars have more in common with centipedes than butterflies. Caterpillars seem to have more than six legs. In fact, caterpillars have only six legs (like all other insects), and multiple pairs of false legs, called prolegs.

About Butterflies & Moths...Same, But Different.

Appearance. Moths have squatter (bulkier), fuzzier bodies. A butterfly’s body is slender. Butterflies have bulbs (swellings) at the ends of their antennae. Moth antennae are feathery. Moths tend to be brown, beige and black in color; while butterflies are generally more colorful.

Behavior. Butterflies rest with their wings closed; while moths rest with their wings open. Moths tend to be more active in the early evening; while butterflies are active during the day.

How Do Butterflies Develop... Butterflies go through four (4) stages of life: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Their appearance differs significantly during these various stages of development. Metamorphosis is similar between butterflies and moths, except that butterflies form a chrysalis while moths form a cocoon. Note: Most children have read The Hungry Caterpillar. Be sure to note that real caterpillars do not eat people food. They eat leaves, and generally a very specific type of leaf.

  • An adult female butterfly lays eggs.

  • The egg hatches into a caterpillar (larva). The larva goes through several growth stages, eating throughout, growing larger and shedding its skin over several weeks.

  • The caterpillar then forms into the chrysalis (KRIS-uh-liss) or pupa. In as little as two weeks the pupa can emerge, or it may remain dormant for weeks, months, and even years.

  • Inside the chrysalis… During this stage nearly all of the caterpillar breaks down and forms a liquid. A small number of cells that have remained dormant (undeveloped) in the caterpillar now become active and form the butterfly.

  • The pupa matures and a butterfly emerges.

Is metamorphosis unique to butterflies? No, all other insects undergo some type of metamorphosis. There are two types of metamorphosis: complete and incomplete. Complete metamorphosis refers to a process where the organism's appearance is distinct during its larval, pupal, and adult stages. With incomplete metamorphosis the insect always resembles the adult throughout its development, but grows larger with successive molts.

Context & Connections

A study of insects in association with an exploration butterflies provides relevant content and context. Butterflies are insects. As such they have certain features that defines insects as insects: an exoskeleton, three body segments and six legs. In establishing the connection between butterflies and insects, future explorations of other types of insects, such as bees, provides children with both a reference point and the license to apply what they have already learned.  

Bees are insects. They also have six legs and three body sections. Like butterflies, and many other insects, bees are important pollinators.


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Wing Pattern: Symmetry and Design

You can find a line of symmetry (bilateral symmetry) by drawing an imaginary line down the center of the butterfly. The left and right halves form mirror images.

Symmetry Activity

Insects, in general, display this type of symmetrical body plan and wing pattern design. The spots on a ladybug’s wings are symmetrical. Interestingly, a ladybug can have an odd number of spots. The “odd” spot actually spans both wings, with half of the odd-numbered spot located on each wing. This becomes obvious when the ladybug spreads its wings.


What is an eyespot? Many insects and other animals, including fish, have eyespots. Eyespots look like eyes, but they are “decorative” and do not function as eyes. Eyespots are an adaptation that helps an organism survive by tricking predators in several ways. The eyespots on a butterfly are usually very large. When a predator sees the eyespots, it may mistake the butterfly for a larger animal and avoid it. In addition, because eyespots tend to be located away from an organism’s head where an attack may be fatal, the eyespots draw a predator’s attack away from the head, increasing its chances for survival.



Adapting to Survive: Wing Pattern and Coloration.

The pattern on a butterfly’s wings is a type of adaptation that also aids in its survival. Some butterfly wing patterns are designed for camouflage, allowing it to blend into its surroundings. Some butterflies do not try to blend in. Similar to a poison dart frog’s warning coloration, the butterfly’s wing pattern may serve to warn off enemies.


Mimicry. Monarch and Viceroy butterflies have very similar wing patterns. Birds tend to avoid Monarchs because they taste terrible. Because the Viceroy bears a resemblance to the Monarch, birds also tend to avoid it as well. This form of mimicry is an advantageous adaptation that aids in the Viceroy’s ability to survive.

Bug bingo anyone...

Make your own cards, with or without other arthropods!

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Insect-Related Activities


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