This week we have science activities and resources for learning more about butterflies and moths, Order Lepidoptera.

  1. What are butterflies and moths?

Members of the Order Lepidoptera have four scale-covered wings as adults. They go through complete metamorphosis and the larval stage is commonly called a caterpillar. One unique trait of the Lepidoptera is that an adult butterfly's or moth's mouthparts, called a proboscis, is curled up under the head when not in use. The proboscis straightens out like a party favor blower when the butterfly or moth feeds.

The larval stages of butterflies and moths feed on plants (with a few rare exceptions). The adults feed on various liquids or don't feed at all. Many visit flowers for nectar.

Activity:  Demonstrate how the butterfly moth works with a party blower.


2. What are the differences between butterflies and moths?

buckeye-butterfly-dbg-4Buckeye butterfly

hickory-tussock-moth-19Hickory Tussock Moth


See our Growing with Science website for a longer discussion of the differences between butterflies and moths.

Activity:  Gather illustrations of common butterflies and moths and have the children sort them into groups using what they have learned.


Butterfly identification for beginners

3. Butterfly and moth life cycles

Check our Growing with Science website for a detailed discussion of butterfly and moth life cycles.

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Activity:  Draw the life cycle of a butterfly and label all four life stages.

Butterflies have four life stages: egg, caterpillar (larva), chrysalis (pupa), adult.

Ask-A-Biologist has a monarch butterfly life cycle coloring page .pdf to download or print.

Activity: Draw the life cycle of a moth and label all four life stages.

Moths also have four life stages, but instead of a chrysalis the pupa is either bare, or develops within a wrapping of silk called a cocoon.

Ask-a-Biologist has a Manduca moth life cycle coloring page .pdf to download or print. Note:  Manduca moths do not form a cocoon.

To see a moth that does form a cocoon, try our Silkworm Moth Life Cycle post.

4. Butterfly and Moth Anatomy

The Growing with Science website also has a discussion of adult butterfly and caterpillar anatomy.

Activity:  Caterpillar anatomy


Allow the children to observe a live caterpillar if available, or obtain some realistic plastic toy caterpillars if not. Explain that insect have six legs and caterpillars are not an exception, although it may look like they have more. The caterpillar has six true legs on its thorax (section right behind the head), but has additional fleshy appendages on the abdomen called prolegs. Those are not truly legs and are mostly used for gripping the plant.

5. Go on a caterpillar hunt outdoors

Young children benefit from experience being outdoors and seeing caterpillars in their natural habitat. If you are unsure where to look, find an experienced guide and/or scout the area in advance.

Six Tips for a Successful Caterpillar Hunt

Children's Books and Resources about Butterflies and Moths

butterfly-gardening-with-childrenCheck out our Butterfly Gardening with Children Week landing page for a list of links to related posts and activities.


At Science Books for Kids we have a growing list of children's books about moths and butterflies organized by reading level.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

See the other lessons in this series:

Insect Science Investigations

This week we have science activities and resources for learning more about beetles, Order Coleoptera. (Class:  Scroll down for instructions on how to care for mealworms).

Of all the insect orders, the beetles have the largest number of species by a wide margin, with over 350,000 species recognized so far.

We have covered many different beetles in our Bug of the Week feature, including:

2013-asparagus-beetleSpotted Asparagus Beetle

  1. What are the common features of beetles?

Beetles are insects, so they have three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen) and six legs.

Beetles can be distinguished from other insects by the fact that most adults have some sort of hardened forewings, called elytra. Beetles actually fly with their membranous hindwings, which are usually hidden or folded up under the elytra.

Coccinellidae_(Ladybug)_Anatomy.svg(Illustration from Wikimedia)

Beetles also have chewing mouthparts and well-developed eyes. Note:  Although it is hard to tell in these illustrations, the legs and wings of all insects are attached to the thorax, never the abdomen. The pronotum is part of the thorax.

beetlesPublic domain illustration of beetles from Wikimedia


2. Learn About Beetle Life Cycles

Beetles undergo complete metamorphosis, which means they pass through egg, larvae, pupae, and adult stages.

Activity:  Rearing mealworms

Raising the larvae of a particular type of darkling beetle called a "mealworm" is a simple and inexpensive way to explore beetle life cycles.

Mealworms get their name from the fact that they feed on grains, such as oat meal, corn meal or wheat products. The mealworm is the larval stage of at least three species of darkling beetles. The most common is the yellow mealworm, Tenebrio molitor. Others are the dark mealworm, Tenebrio obscurus, and the giant or king mealworm, Zophobas sp.


  • Clean plastic margarine tub or similar container with cover
  • Wheat bran, oatmeal and/or chicken laying mash (ground corn)
  • Potato or apple peels as a source of moisture
  • A substrate such as crumbled cork or crumpled paper for the adults to lay eggs on (optional)
  • Mealworms - Mealworms are used as pet food, and are readily available at most pet stores or online.

Prepare the container by poke small holes in the lid for ventilation with a pin or brad, or remove a quarter-sized hole and cover with screen. Glue the screen in place with a glue gun.

Fill the container about one quarter full with wheat bran, crushed wheat cereal, oatmeal, oat bran or corn bran, or a mixture. You can also mix in dry cat food or chicken laying mash, if available.

Add a few small slices of apple or potato for moisture. Change the slices regularly. If you notice the flour is molding underneath, lay the slices on a bottle top or other clean lid. Add a piece of crumbled cork or crumpled paper for the adult beetles to lay their eggs on. Add the larvae and store in a warm, dark place.

mealworm-larva-332Mealworm Larva

After a few weeks, the larvae should change into something that looks like a soft, immobile beetle.

mealworm-pupa-282Mealworm Pupa

This is the pupal stage. The hard-shelled adult beetle will emerge in 10-20 days. Leave the adults right in the container. They should lay eggs and which will hatch into tiny larvae in a few weeks.

Add more food and remove larvae for experiments as needed. Eventually the mealworms will benefit from a thorough cleaning. Dump the contents into a tray, separate the larvae and pupae from the food, clean the container, add fresh food and return the larvae to their new home. If you don’t like to pick up the worms with your fingers, try a small plastic spoon.

Activity:  Draw the life cycle of a mealworm or lady beetle and label all four life stages (see resources below).

Activity: Compare Life Cycles of Different Species

1. Obtain two or three species of mealworm from a pet store or online. Practice rearing the larvae in individual containers such as film canisters or small plastic cups with lids. When you have adults laying eggs for all species, begin the experiment.

2. Prepare new containers with exactly the same diet and conditions. Add a fresh paper to your rearing container overnight to obtain freshly laid eggs. Cut out the individual eggs and add one to each prepared container. Label the species of mealworm on the container. Set up a similar number, such as ten, for each species.

3. Keep the containers together under the exact same conditions. Record how fast the larvae emerge, when they pupate and when new adults emerge. Which species has the quickest life cycle? Which is the slowest?

A time-lapse video of the mealworm life cycle

Handy Resources:

Insect Lore Ladybug Life Cycle Stages

Safari Ltd Safariology the Life Cycle of a Stag Beetle

lady-beetle-eggsLady Beetle Eggs

lady-beetle-pupaLady beetle larva (left) and pupa (right)

3. Lost Ladybug Project Citizen Science

Visit the Lost Ladybug Project for an opportunity to participate in a citizen science project, as well as for a wealth of free teaching resources and identification guides.

See our blog post of information and activity ideas for ladybugs (lady beetles) as well.

Children's Books and Resources about Beetles

Are You a Ladybug? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen and illustrated by Tudor Humphries

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Kingfisher; 1 edition (May 16, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0753456036
ISBN-13: 978-0753456033

Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Holiday House; Reprint edition (January 7, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0823427609
ISBN-13: 978-0823427604

If you can find a copy, Ladybugs by Jean C. Echols is a great resource for educators.

Series: Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley
Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: Gems; Tch edition (September 1, 1999)
ISBN-10: 0924886196
ISBN-13: 978-0924886195

From Mealworm to Beetle: Following the Life Cycle (Amazing Science: Life Cycles) by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jeff Yesh

Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Publisher: Picture Window Books (September 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1404849254
ISBN-13: 978-1404849259

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

See the other lessons in this series:

Insect Science Investigations

This week we have science activities and resources for learning more about dragonflies and damselflies, Order Odonata.

  1. What is a dragonfly and what is a damselfly?

Dragonflies are the large, showy insects seen around ponds and other bodies of water. They have large eyes, which often take up most of their head. When they land on a plant or other object, they hold their wings straight out.


Damselflies, on the other hand, are usually a bit finer, more delicate looking. They rest with their wings folded behind their backs.

Dragonflies and damselflies often are bright colors, such as red, green and bright blue. In addition, the colors of many dragonflies change as they get older. They can be just as colorful and fun to watch as birds or butterflies.

Activity:  Make models of adult dragonflies and damselflies.

Either gather photographs and illustrations of dragonflies and damselflies. Use these to draw the adults, or make models.

Pay attention to their anatomy. For example, the legs and wings are attached to the thorax. Damselflies have smaller eyes than dragonflies. The wings have numerous veins that give them a net-like appearance. The legs have spines and are used to scoop up prey in midair.


The Enchanted Tree has instructions for a Folded dragonfly craft

See our Dragonfly crafts for kids Pinterest board for more ideas and resources (click on title to go to board, or individual pins to go to that link).

Follow Roberta's board Dragonfly crafts for kids on Pinterest.


2. Dragonfly and Damselfly Life Cycles

Dragonflies and damselflies have incomplete metamorphosis, similar to grasshoppers and crickets from last week. The main difference is the adults look quite different from the nymphs.

The adult female dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in the water, or on plants or debris in or near the water.


Female dragonfly laying her eggs in the water.

The eggs hatch into nymphs (sometimes also called naiads).

dragonfly-nymph-exoskeletonExoskeleton or the shed "skin" of a dragonfly nymph

The white lines in the photograph above are the remnants or linings of the breathing tubes (tracheae) that pull out as the adult dragonfly emerges. The adult will produce new tracheae.

Dragonfly nymphs live under water where they prey on other organisms. Dragonfly nymphs have "masks" at the bottom of their heads. These are special lower lips, (labium-singular or labia -plural) that they use as an "insect net" to capture or scoop up prey. The labia are also used to hold prey in place while feeding.

In this video of a live dragonfly nymph feeding, look for both uses of the labium.

When they are mature, the nymphs crawl to the surface, sometimes onto a plant or even onto land, before emerging as adults.


Go to a local pond or wetland when dragonflies and damselflies are active and search for shed exoskeletons along the shore and in emergent vegetation. If allowed, take an aquatic sweep net or dip net, and search for nymphs in the water.


Investigate, and then draw and label the life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies.

You may also print out a worksheet to help:

3. Dragonfly watching

Nothing beats strolling out to a pond, stream or lake and simply watching dragonflies and damselflies in action.

One of the first things you notice about dragonflies or damselflies is their strong ability to fly. They have four wings, and can move the fore and hind wings independently. In this BBC video clip from Life in the Undergrowth, you can see a dragonfly's amazing flight slowed down.

Often dragonflies are searching for food when they are flying. They catch other flying insects, such as mosquitoes, while on the wing. In fact, one common name for a dragonfly is "mosquito hawk."

Male dragonflies and damselflies may also fly to look for females or to chase away others from their territories.


Perching is another common behavior. Dragonflies and damselflies often rest on a plant or similar object looking for prey to fly by. An adult may return again and again to the same perch.

4. Dragonfly Swarms

The Dragonfly Woman blog by Christine Goforth has a good deal of information about dragonfly swarming.

What is a dragonfly swarm? When a group of insects gather together in a large group, for whatever purpose, it is often called a swarm. In the case of dragonflies, the swarm may be a bunch of dragonflies feeding together at one location. This is called a static swarm. Dragonflies can also form large groups and move from place to place. This is called a migratory swarm.

Christine's video of a dragonfly swarm:

Do dragonflies occur where you live? Have you ever seen a dragonfly swarm? For a citizen science project, check out  Dragonfly Swarm Project where you can report swarm sightings.

You might like to see Dragonfly Woman's posts about making a dragonfly collection using a scanner as well. I love the idea of being able to preserve the insect's image and let the dragonfly go again.

Children's Books About Dragonflies and Damselflies:

Dragonflies of North America: A Color and Learn Book With Activities by Kathy Biggs and Tim Manolis (Illustrator) is not your average coloring book. First of all, the author has written two field guides to dragonflies, as well as maintains a website about the dragonflies of California. You can tell by the quality of the text that she has a great understanding of, as well as passion for, dragonflies. Did you know that dragonflies often perch with only four legs, and use their front legs to wipe their eyes like windshield wipers?

Dragonflies of North America covers the basics nicely, such as the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, and the dragonfly life cycle. Then the author presents the characteristics of a number of different kinds of dragonflies, with enough detail so you could actually distinguish one from another. Although written for children, this is one of those books that is also perfect for the interested adult beginner.

Are You a Dragonfly? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries is another picture book  in the Are you a... series that bring young readers into the book by making direct comparisons to insects. These books are fun and full of age-appropriate information.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

See the other lessons in this series:

Insect Science Investigations