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E.O. Wilson, renowned naturalist, once called butterflies “the flowers of the air.” Beautiful with their brilliant colors, graceful flight, and benign behavior, butterflies enhance our landscapes and gardens. They are also indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem. Butterflies play a role in pollination and serve as part of the food chain for other organisms. Butterflies serve as a gateway to understanding the natural world and a visual reminder for the need for conservation of all living things around us.
In this curriculum for youth ages 6-8, youth will observe the wonders of the natural world unfolding in front of them by raising painted lady butterflies from larva through adulthood. Youth will experience the mystery of the butterfly life cycle while engaging in hands-on activities that explore concepts of insect structures and functions, compare insect behaviors and life cycles, and demonstrate the role everyone can play in environmental stewardship.
A BIG, BUGGY WORLD
We share the world with many types of animals. Some are furry, some are spiny, some are soft, and others are hard. In this activity, you will explore the life around us. Youth will be able to describe many different types of animals with which we share the environment, and the many different types of animals that share the environment with butterflies.
- A Big Sweep – Youth explore the outdoors and inventory the different critters roaming about.
- Write: What’s in Your Net? – Youth record findings.
- Build a Bug Net (Optional) – Youth build a sweep net to collect insects.
- Create an Insect Collection (Optional) – Youth build an insect collection,
WHAT IS A BUG?
They may not all look alike, but it turns out insects have a lot in common. Youth will be able to explain the basic physical characteristics that define insects.
- Animal Memory Game – Youth play a memory game to understand the diversity of creatures in the world.
- Invent an Insect – Youth apply their knowledge of insect structures to create their own, new insect species.
- I Am So a Bug – Youth learn the body parts of a butterfly caterpillar.
- Clippy the Caterpillar – Youth create a caterpillar craft.
- Write: Is a Spider an Insect? – Youth use critical thinking skills to write about the differences between critters.
CHANGE IS HAPPENING
Though they’re the same animal, butterflies and caterpillars live very different lives. Caterpillars have chewing mouthparts and eat leaves. They have no wings and cannot fly. Butterflies have straw-like mouthparts and drink nectar, and they have wings to fly from flower to flower. Let’s explore more about the similarities and differences between butterflies and other animals.
- Art Walk: The Cycle of Life – Youth explore the life cycles of different organisms through a series of visuals.
- Butterfly Shuffle Cards – Youth continue the exploration of metamorphosis by arranging the steps of a butterfly life cycle.
- Livin’ the Life Cycle (Optional) – Youth create a craft project that displays each step of the butterfly life cycle.
- Writing: Tiny Transformations – Youth write about how butterfly changes relate to themselves.
- Song of Science: Butterfly Life Cycle – Youth sing and act out the stages of the butterfly life cycle.
- The Cycle of Life passage – Youth read a passage about the life cycle of the painted lady and share their comprehension.
TIME TO GROW
It’s time to meet your caterpillars! Let’s take a look at how they grow. Youth will observe and share the life cycle of butterflies and provide proper lab treatment of animals.
- Setting Up a Habitat – Youth learn the materials needed to create a habitat for raising painted lady butterflies indoors.
- Caterpillar Contract – Youth sign a contract committing themselves to humane care of their butterflies.
- The Larval Lab – Youth observe and measure their caterpillars’ growth.
- Butterfly Journal – Youth record their butterflies’ changes.
- Caterpillar Cinquain – Youth create a poem celebrating their amazing butterflies.
THIS END UP
What can your caterpillars do? How do caterpillars act? What happens when caterpillars meet light and gravity? Will they crawl away? Will they crawl toward the stimulus? Why do they tangle themselves up into silky snarls? Youth will observe and analyze the role of natural instincts and behaviors in caterpillars.
- This End Up – Youth observe caterpillars’ response to a light and gravity stimulus.
- Silk Snarls – Youth engineer a “silk” web to support a painted lady larva.
Time to rest and transform. Caterpillars eat and eat and eat. When they have eaten all they need, they begin the transformation into a protective case called a pupa, also known as a chrysalis. Youth will explore the pupal stage of the butterfly life cycle and be able to identify the parts of a chrysalis.
- Pupa Play – Youth act out the process of chrysalis formation.
- Pupa Parts – Youth observe chrysalises and identify their different parts.
- Chrysalis Creation – Youth make a craft chrysalis with a butterfly emerging from inside.
- Transferring Chrysalises – Youth learn how to move chrysalises from the larval cups to a butterfly cage.
- Write: Fascinating Frogs – Youth research frog metamorphosis and compare it to butterfly metamorphosis
Watch chrysalises wiggle here!
It’s time to meet your Butterflies! Let’s observe how they emerge, flitter and flutter. Youth will be able share the structures and functions of an adult butterfly.
- Butterfly Fashion Show – Youth volunteers model the different body parts and functions of an adult butterfly.
- Butterfly Journal – Youth journal their observations on adult butterflies.
- Build a Butterfly – Youth create a model of a common garden butterfly.
- Write: Realistic Fiction Narrative – Youth write a story about their butterflies.
- Emergence of Butterflies – Youth learn how to care for the emerged painted lady butterflies.
- The Amazing Painted Lady Passage – Youth read and respond to a reading passage on painted ladies.
FLITTER, FLUTTER: MOTH OR BUTTER?
A moth or butterfly? Let’s find out why they are similar and what makes them different.Youth will be able to explain the differences between moths and butterflies and the adaptive significance of butterfly coloration.
- Flitter Flutter: Moth or Butter? – Youth create a venn diagram to sort out the differences between moths and butterflies.
- Make a Moth Dance Party – Youth attract moths in an optional night activity.
- Write: Which is Better? Moth or Butter? – Youth apply their writing skills to describe the differences between moths and butterflies.
THE POWER OF POLLINATION
Pollen is for more than a good sneeze or some bees: Butterflies pollinate flowers, too! Butterflies look pretty, but they also help the environment by pollinating plants. Some flowers are tailor-made for butterfly tongues, taking advantage of the butterfly’s body shape to help with pollination. Youth will summarize the concept of pollination, and the benefits of pollination to insects, plants, and humans.
- Mouthparts Matching – Youth learn about the relationship between flower shape and the length of pollinator tongues.
- All A-Flutter Activity – Youth act out pollinator behavior.
- Precise Pollinators – Youth research different pollinators and share their findings.
- Plan and Plant: Butterfly Garden – Youth design a butterfly garden.
- Make a Butterfly Feeder – Youth create a butterfly nectar feeder.
- “The Power of Pollination” – Youth read a passage on butterfly pollination.
FLUTTER BY, BUTTERFLY
It’s our big day! It’s time for your hard work and care to take wing. You’ve watched your critters grow from tiny caterpillars to beautiful butterflies. Now, you and your butterflies can work together to make the environment a better place! Youth will examine butterfly conservation and reflect on how rearing butterflies builds an awareness and appreciation of the environment and world around us.
- One Last Look Before You Go! – Youth make a butterfly ornament to remember their fluttering friends.
- Write: A Final Farewell – Youth write a note of farewell to their butterflies and reflect on the experience of raising them.
- Time to Fly! – Youth release their butterflies.
ILLUSTRATED INDEX: BUTTERFLIES
Know your butterflies! Though more than 750 different butterfly species float and fly across the United States, if you look for them you’ll often find a few usual suspects. This illustrated index is an easy way to learn about some of our country’s most common butterfly species.
- Gossamer Winged
- Sulphurs and Whites
ILLUSTRATED INDEX: PLANTS
Grow plants for butterflies! Butterflies and caterpillars are easy to attract to a garden or backyard landscape. Butterflies thrive within a well-designed landscape that has a variety of both nectar plants for adults and host plants for caterpillars. The illustrated index of butterfly plants offers a few native plant suggestions to get you started.
- Shrubs and Vines
- Herbaceous Perennials
The full curriculum may be obtained for free by contacting your 4-H agent at your local Cooperative Extension office.