Skip to content

Painted lady butterflies are in the news this week. First of all, they are migrating in huge numbers in southern California.

Check out short video of the butterflies streaming across a field by South Coast research. Amazing!

The numbers of painted ladies are higher this year because of seasonal rains that caused a flush of their food plants. Here in Arizona we have seen smaller numbers of painted ladies migrating in both February and fall (links to previous posts).

If you'd like to see how to identify these butterflies, learn more about their migrations, and/or participate in a citizen science project, visit the Red Admiral and Painted Lady Research Site at Iowa State University

With perfect timing the fabulous new picture book that showcases the life cycle of painted ladies for the youngest readers, Butterflies in Room 6: See How They Grow by Caroline Arnold, also emerged on March 12, 2019.

Follow along with the children in Mrs. Best's kindergarten class as they hatch painted lady caterpillars from eggs, feed the caterpillars a special diet, and wait patiently for the butterflies to emerge from their chrysalids. As you can see from the book cover, nothing is as mesmerizing as a freshly-eclosed live butterfly!

Caroline Arnold is both the author and photographer for the book and she has captured some fun and incredible images of both the insects and the children. Her 2017 book with a similar format, Hatching Chicks in Room 6, was a winner of the Cybils Award for Elementary Nonfiction.

Back matter includes answers to questions about butterflies, a vocabulary list, links to butterfly information online and suggestions for further reading about butterflies.

Butterflies in Room 6 is a must have to accompany a unit on insects or project raising painted lady butterflies. Fly out and get a copy today!

Related Activities:

1. Explore butterfly and moth metamorphosis.

A painted lady butterfly undergoes a number of changes during its lifetime, from egg to larva to pupa to adult.

You can see the process in this time lapse of caterpillars raised in the classroom. The brown mixture is the artificial diet they use as food.

Why do you think the painted lady caterpillars are so spiky?

This is a painted lady caterpillar on a hollyhock leaf.

Models of Painted Lady Butterfly Life Stages

Create a poster of a butterfly or moth life cycle


  • Poster board, construction or craft paper
  • Crayons, markers and/or colored pencils
  • Yarn (optional)
  • Age-appropriate scissors
  • Glue, tape
  • Photographs or clip art of caterpillars, butterflies and moths

Choose a particular butterfly or moth and learn about what each stage looks like in its life cycle. Gather images. Plan where each stage should go in the cycle:  egg, caterpillar (larva), chrysalis or cocoon, and adult butterfly or moth. Leave room for a title at the top. Either draw each of the stages, or cut out photographs and paste or tape them on. Draw arrows between the stages or connect them with yarn. Put on a title and display the poster. Tell others about what you have learned.

2. Plant a butterfly garden

Start with Butterfly Gardening with Children which has links to a week of butterfly gardening posts, including Five great nectar plants for butterflies

If you'd like to encourage painted ladies, grow plants their larvae prefer. Painted lady caterpillars will eat a variety of weeds like thistles, but also some cultivated plants or wildflowers like sunflowers, mallows, including hollyhocks, yarrow, and ironweeds (Vernonia sp.) Check with your local butterfly societies for local native plants to grow.

Butterflies Book info:
Age Range: 3 - 7 years
Publisher: Charlesbridge (March 12, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1580898947
ISBN-13: 978-1580898942

Want to read more? See our growing list of children's books about butterflies and moths at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided for review by the publisher. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books. Note: this is a new link as of 10/2018.


Here it is the end of November already and we still are seeing caterpillars out and about.

There's silk, holes and frass on some of the hollyhock leaves.

Those belong to the painted lady butterfly caterpillars, Vanessa cardui. 

Painted lady caterpillars vary a lot in color. This one may be lighter because it is a color variation or maybe because it just molted.

They feed on a range of plants, from thistles to sunflowers, but painted lady caterpillars always have a patch of silk around them.

The adult butterflies migrate this time of year. We often see them feeding on lantana flowers. You can see adult butterflies in this post from November 2008.

Once I finished taking photographs of those, over on the Texas yellow bells, Tecoma stans variety 'Orange Jubilee,' I found another sizable caterpillar feeding.

This is a rustic sphinx caterpillar, Manduca rustica. In the past we've found them on desert willow and cats claw vine. (You can see an adult rustic sphinx moth in this previous post from the beginning of November in 2014.) They are common throughout the southern parts of North America.

Although it looks a bit lethargic above, it was still able to crawl around.

Actually, it was nice that it was a bit slow. I could zoom in on some of the details.

For example, in this close up of the head, you can see the caterpillar's eye as the black dot right above it's black front leg.

At the other end is the spiky tail spine.

Sphinx moth caterpillars often have a "tail," which is what gives them the common name hornworm.

Caterpillars of painted lady butterflies and rustic sphinx moths in the same week. How cool is that?