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Home / Science projects / Butterfly Science Activities
  • Butterfly Science Activities

    Butterfly Science Activities

    In Search of Caterpillars

    For this project, you will need to find a caterpillar. Butterflies lay their eggs on the plants that their caterpillars like to eat, which are called host plants. Some common host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars are alfalfa, aster, broccoli, cabbage, clover, dill, milkweed, parsley, snapdragon, and sunflower. Trees that are hosts to caterpillars include birch, chokecherry and cherry, cottonwood, elm, oak, and willow. (Here is a list of some common butterflies and their host plants.) Ask an adult to help you figure out which of those plants you have in your yard or someplace near your home where you could go to look for caterpillars.

    hungry caterpillar

    What You Need:

    • clear plastic container (this jar will work well, or you could use something smaller)
    • piece of cheesecloth
    • rubber band that fits around the opening of the container
    • scissors
    • magnifying glass

    What You Do:

    1. Get an adult's permission to go outside and search for caterpillars.
    2. To search a plant, gently turn the leaves over one at a time by holding the stem and turning it slightly so you can see the back of the leaf. Look for holes in the leaves. If it looks like something has been eating it, there are probably caterpillars nearby! Keep looking through the plants, and on the ground around the plants.
    3. If you find a caterpillar, carefully cut the leaf or part of the plant that it is on and put it into your container; don't pick the caterpillar up or take try to take it off the plant because it can hold on tightly and you may hurt it. Cover the container with cheesecloth and put a rubber band around it so your caterpillar can breathe but can't escape.
    4. If you find any very tiny caterpillars, they may have hatched recently! Use your magnifying glass to look more closely at the backs of leaves to see if there are any butterfly eggs that have not hatched into caterpillars yet. If you find any, don't touch them, just look.

    Now What?

    Put a few small twigs and blades of grass in the container to give your caterpillar more interesting places to explore. The caterpillar will not need any water, but it will be very hungry, so make sure you remember what plant it was eating when you found it so that you can get fresh leaves from the same kind of plant. Feed your caterpillar once a day, or more often if it eats all the fresh leaves sooner. Take the old leaves out before putting new ones in. Let the caterpillar go after a couple days.

    Note: Instead of finding your own caterpillars, you can order some. You will not need to feed these caterpillars anything because the containers that they come in have all the food they will need, but you can watch them eat and turn into butterflies!

    Make a Butterfly Feeder

    What You Need:

    • a plastic lid (from an empty sour cream container or other container)
    • a hole punch
    • string or yarn
    • scissors
    • construction paper or artificial flowers
    • several slices of fruit that are too ripe to eat
    • orange juice

    What You Do:

    1. Get an adult to help you use the hole punch to punch four holes in the lid just inside the rim. Punch one hole at the top of the lid, one at the bottom and another one halfway in-between those holes on each edge.
    2. Cut four pieces of string that are each about 12" long. Tie one end of each string through each of the holes and around the rim of the lid. Pull the loose ends of all four strings together at the top (the rim of the lid should be facing up) and tie them together in a knot.
    3. Cut colorful flowers out of construction paper and tape them to the strings to help you feeder attract butterflies. (You could use artificial flowers instead.)
    4. Arrange a few slices of the ripe fruit on the lid. Fruits that are very juicy will attract butterflies the best. Some good ones to use are oranges, watermelon, grapes, or pears. Bananas also work well if you freeze them and then thaw and slice them. If some of the fruit does not seem very juicy, pour a few drops of orange juice on it to keep it from drying out as quickly.
    5. Take your feeder outside and hang it from a tree branch. Since the sweet fruit will probably attract other insects like bees and flies, you should not hang it near your house or sidewalk.
    6. Watch to see what kind of butterflies come to eat at your feeder. Do you think different kinds of butterflies like different kinds of fruit? How many butterflies eat from your feeder at once? How does a butterfly eat?

    What Happened:

    Butterflies love to drink nectar. The sweet juice from fruit is like nectar. Butterflies don't have noses, but they can sense smells through their antennae and their feet! When a butterfly lands on liquid, it knows it is something it could eat and its proboscisuncurls to drink up the liquid! A proboscis works sort of like a drinking straw and the liquids that it sucks up through its proboscis go directly into the butterfly's body. Colors also help butterflies find food. Their favorite colors are purple, red, orange, yellow, and pink, because those are the colors of most flowers that have sweet nectar that butterflies can easily drink.

    Observe Symmetry

    What is symmetry? When something is exactly the same on both sides, it is symmetrical. True symmetry means that one side is a mirror image of the other side, so if you could draw a line down the middle of an object and fold it in half along the line and the two halves matched up to each other perfectly, the object would be symmetrical. Symmetry can be seen in lots of things around you. Here are some examples: snowflakes, butterfly wings, insects and spiders, seashells, flowers, letters, shapes, buildings, your body, and many more. Some things may seem symmetrical, but really aren't exactly the same on both sides. One example is your face. Even though it looks mostly the same on each side (you have two eyes and ears and your forehead, mouth, nose and chin are all shapes that can be split in half), there are small differences that are hard to notice unless you look very closely. These pictures show you what some kids would look like if both sides of their faces were perfectly symmetrical. You will see that some people's faces are slightly more symmetrical than others.

    Can you find any examples of symmetry? Look around your house or take a quick walk outside to find some things that are symmetrical. How many of your objects are things found in nature, or not created by humans? Print out this worksheet and decide which of the pictures are of something symmetrical and which ones are not.

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