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Monarch butterflies: Explore the magic

by Elizabeth Morgan Russell


“Look! It’s a fairy! She’s flying around the flowers!” shouts Brianna jumping up and down.

“Oh, wow!” exclaims Ms. Dubois. “How is it like a fairy?”

Several other children chime in: “It’s got wings.” “It can fly.” “It’s beautiful.”

“It does look a lot like the make-believe fairies in your favorite picture book, Brianna. But it’s real. What else could it be?” Ms. Dubois asked the 3-year-olds by the flower garden.

“It’s a butterfly,” says Petra.

“How can you tell it is a butterfly?” asks Ms. Dubois.

The children answer simultaneously. “It has wings.” “It likes flowers.” “It’s bright yellow.”

“Yes, it’s a butterfly,” says Ms. Dubois. “It’s called a Monarch butterfly. When we go inside, we’ll search our library for books and online information about it.”



Monarch butterflies do seem magical. This article provides information about these amazing creatures so you can take advantage of teachable moments when they visit your playground. Specifically, you can expect to do the following with the children in your care:
Encourage curiosity and wonder about Monarch butterflies.
Talk about the many values of Monarchs.
Illustrate scientific concepts such as metamorphosis.
Explain why Monarchs are in danger.
Involve children in activities that may help save the butterflies.


What teachers need to know
A Monarch butterfly is an insect. Its scientific name is Danaus plexippus, and it belongs to the order Lepidoptera, meaning “scale wing” in Greek. If you look closely at the wings with a magnifying glass, you will see thousands of tiny flat scales that overlap like fish scales (Rosenblatt 1998). The scales give the color and create patterns in the wings. The scales also make the wings shimmer in the sunshine (Goldcroft 2014).

Butterflies are cold-blooded, meaning they depend upon the environment to regulate their temperature. They unfold their wings and bask in the sun to keep warm and seek shade on leafy trees or plants as well as niches in tree bark to stay cool or keep dry. They cannot live in temperatures below freezing. When the weather starts to cool, they migrate to their warm, overwintering sites in southern California or central Mexico (Goldcroft 2014; Rosenblatt 1998).

The Monarch goes through a complete metamorphosis, or transformation, during its life cycle (Rea 2010), as outlined below.


Stage 1: Egg
Every Monarch begins its life as an egg the size of a pin head. The female lays 500-700 oval-shaped, creamy-white eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf (Goldcroft 2014; Rosenblatt 1998). After three to five days, the egg hatches and a tiny Monarch caterpillar emerges. The caterpillar’s first meal is the eggshell from which it hatched (Rea 2010).


Stage 2: Caterpillar (larva)
Caterpillars are striking in color, with bright yellow, black, and white bands. Each caterpillar has a head and 14 segments. The head has a pair of short tentacles and 12 eyes, six to a side. Despite its many eyes, the caterpillar has poor vision. It relies on tentacles to help guide its movement (Monarch Watch). Its mouth has mandibles, or jaws, that enable the caterpillar to eat leaves (University of Kentucky).

Just below the head is a spinneret, like a spider’s, that produces a long, sticky thread that adheres to the milkweed leaf. If the caterpillar falls off the leaf, it can climb back up the thread and continue munching on the same leaf (Rosenblatt 1998).

The three segments immediately behind the head form the thorax, or midsection. Each segment has a pair of jointed, or true legs, which end in sharp claws and are used to grip the leaf surface while the caterpillar feeds (Rosenblatt 1998).

The remaining 11 segments form the abdomen. Each of the first five abdominal segments has a pair of prolegs, or false legs, with tiny hooks that hold the caterpillar to the leaf surface (Monarch Watch).

The caterpillar breathes through visible holes (spiracles) in the sides of the thorax and abdomen. Sensory receptacles on the mouth parts, tentacles, and feet (Rea 2010) enable the caterpillar to taste and smell.

At the beginning of the larval stage, the caterpillar is about 1⁄16 of an inch in length. At the end of the stage, 14-18 days later, the caterpillar is about 2 inches in length and plump. It weighs 3,000 times more than it did when it hatched. To achieve this growth, the caterpillar eats 20-30 milkweed leaves before pupating (Rosenblatt 1998). The more caterpillars eat, the more excrement, or frass, they produce.

A caterpillar’s tough skin does not grow to fit its expanding size, so it sheds the skin, or molts, when the skin becomes too tight. The caterpillar is very still just before it molts. It molts five times before entering the chrysalis stage.


Stage 3: Chrysalis (pupa)
After the fifth molting, a green casing envelops the caterpillar. It hardens after an hour and resembles an elongated green acorn. Inside, the caterpillar body parts break down into a liquid and are transformed into an adult butterfly (Goldcroft 2014; Rosenblatt 1998).

After about two weeks, the adult struggles out of the casing. When first emerging, the butterfly is about 1 ½ inches long, and its wings are wrinkled and wet. Its abdomen contracts and pushes a blood-like fluid into the four wings (two forewings and two hindwings). The wings dry and harden after about two hours.


Stage 4: Butterfly
At first the Monarch basks in the sun and exercises its wings, distinctive in their deep orange color outlined in black and dotted in white. The wings, extending to a 4-inch span, move either through use of wing muscles or changes in the thorax shape.

The Monarch’s body consists of the same three parts as the caterpillar: head, thorax, and abdomen. The head has four main structures—compound eyes, two antennae, two palpi (touch and smell sensors), and proboscis (tongue). The straw-like proboscis allows the butterfly to suck flower nectar and water for nourishment and sip soil for minerals and nutrients. The butterfly curls up its proboscis when not in use (Goldcroft 2014; Monarch Watch).

The Monarch spends its first few days of life adapting to its new body and using its many sense receptors to explore its environment.

The adult Monarch butterflies are ready to mate within four to seven days after emerging from the chrysalis. Females lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves, and the life cycle starts over (Flight of the Butterflies).

The odds of surviving in the wild are against the Monarch butterfly. Only 1 percent of eggs live to be an adult (

Migration. Monarchs leave colder climates for their summer wintering sites in one of two major migrations. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains fly from southern Canada and northern California to southern California. Those east of the Rocky Mountains migrate 2,500 miles from southern Canada, across the United States, and into Mexico. In the spring, they reverse course and fly back north.

It takes four generations of Monarchs to complete one migration: 1. Great-grandparents, 2. grandparents, 3. parents, and 4. children. Every butterfly in every generation goes through the same life cycle. It is the fourth generation that completes the migration. (See the chart below.)

Those on the eastern side of the Rockies, for example, overwinter in the forests atop the mountains in central Mexico, and start the migration back to southern Canada when the weather warms. This so-called super-butterfly does not mate or lay eggs until winter is over. During the migration north, the Monarchs fly six to eight hours a day for six weeks (Goldcroft 2014; Rea 2010; Rosenblatt 1998).

During the spring and fall migrations, the Monarchs periodically rest and feed on nectar-producing plants, including wildflowers. Few nectar-producing flowers along the route leave the Monarch without a source of food. Few milkweed plants can leave the female without a place to lay eggs during the migration back north, reducing the size of the next generation (Goldcroft 2014; Rea 2010; Rosenblatt 1998).

Besides lack of food and places to lay eggs, Monarchs face multiple hazards along the migration route. Wind, rain, or cold weather can ground or force the butterfly off its route. Predators in the air and on the ground are a constant source of danger.

We know about the Monarchs’ migration patterns thanks largely to the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Fred and Norah Urquhart. They tagged hundreds of thousands of Monarch butterflies and tracked the migration route for more than 35 years. Citizen scientists (volunteers) relayed the destinations of the tagged butterflies by phone to the Urquharts, who posted them on a large bulletin board hung on the wall of their office. Their search culminated in 1975 when two citizen scientists, Ken Brugger and Catalina Aguado, located the overwintering site of millions of Monarch butterflies 10,000 feet high in the mountains of central Mexico. The butterflies clung in large groups to the leaves of trees in the Oyamel fir forest (Monarch Watch).

One big mystery about the Monarch migration remains: How do the butterflies know where to go and how to get there? The Monarchs that migrate south have not previously been in Mexico. The same is true for the Monarchs that fly north; they have not previously been in Canada.


Why Monarch butterflies are important
Humans have been fascinated with butterflies for thousands of years; the oldest known depiction of a butterfly is 4,000 years old (Barkman 2015). Butterflies have inspired artists, gracing everything from ancient Egyptian tomb paintings to current clothing and jewelry fashions. Picture books, songs, and butterfly toys abound, as easily demonstrated with a quick search of the Internet. For example, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1994) is a beloved classic of many young children. It beautifully illustrates the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

In addition to their beauty, butterflies help maintain their natural environment, or ecosystem, through pollination. Pollinators are animals, including butterflies, that are necessary for the fertilization and reproduction of 75 percent of our major food crops—that is, fruits, vegetables, and nuts-- as well as 80-95 percent of naturally occurring plant species (Center for Pollinator Research).

Plants form the foundation for human and animal food chains and provide shelter and nesting sites for many animal species. For these reasons, pollinators, including Monarch butterflies, are essential to the health and diversity of our natural ecosystem. Butterflies also serve a more basic function in maintaining the ecosystem: all stages, from egg to adult, are a source of food for other animals (Florida Museum).

Because butterflies are sensitive to adverse changes in their ecosystems, their well-being reflects the health of their environments. Thus, a healthy butterfly population can indicate its natural setting is relatively stable and healthy. In contrast, a waning butterfly population can indicate unhealthy changes in the environment, such as habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change.
Results of recent studies on the well-being of North American Monarch butterflies show a strong link between a sharp decline in butterfly well-being and the conditions of their environments.


What is hurting Monarch butterflies
In the 1970s, when the Urquharts were completing their research, there were a billion Monarch butterflies; today there are about half that number (Flight of the Butterflies). The primary reasons for the sharp decline can be traced to adverse changes in their ecosystems, some of which can be attributed to human activity.

Rapid encroachment of city boundaries into farmland and woodland has eliminated many wild milkweed plants. Pesticides kill a variety of insects, including Monarchs, and herbicides kill milkweed and nectar-producing flowers (Flight of the Butterflies; Goldcroft 2014). Milkweed is essential because Monarchs lay their eggs on the leaves, and caterpillars eat only that plant. Nectar-producing plants provide food for the adult Monarchs.

In addition, decades of illegal logging in the remote mountain forests of Sierra Madre have reduced the number of trees available for butterflies to roost, rest, and be protected from the cold and rain. Moreover, violent storms are killing hundreds of millions of these winged creatures (Flight of the Butterflies).

Finally, genetically modified corn produces a pollen that carries a toxin deadly to Monarch caterpillars. The thick, yellow pollen is carried on the wind or on the legs of pollinators to surrounding milkweed plants on which the caterpillars feed, resulting in their death (Goldcroft 2014).

Natural predators, including birds, wasps, spiders, and ants, generally do not affect the overall population of the butterflies because they are a natural part their ecosystem (Goldcroft 2014). But scientists have become concerned about parasites, fungi, viruses, and bacteria. One parasite in particular, the Ophryocystis Elektroscirrha (OE), has a devastating impact on Monarch population because it affects multiple generations. The potential for inadvertent infection with OE is one reason for thorough hand washing before touching the butterfly in any of its four stages (Goldcroft 2014).


Activities for children
Monarch butterflies provide numerous opportunities for young children to learn fundamental concepts in natural science and biology.


Feed the caterpillar
This fine motor activity builds on The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1994).


Here’s what you need:
an empty and washed 8-ounce Parmesan cheese shaker
black permanent marker
green construction paper
transparent tape
12 1-inch pompoms (3 blue, 3 red, 3 yellow)
a basket large enough to hold the shaker and 12 pompoms


1. Draw eyes on the lid of the Parmesan shaker. Wrap green paper around the shaker and tape securely in place.
2. Place the pompoms and shaker in the basket, and place the basket close to the book corner.
3. Read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to children individually or in small groups depending upon the toddlers’ attention span and interest.
4. Draw attention to the basket: “That was a story about a very hungry caterpillar. I have a very hungry caterpillar too. Would you help me feed it?” Open the shaker top and demonstrate how to push a pompom into the caterpillar’s mouth. Invite the toddler to imitate you.
5. As the caterpillar is fed, talk with toddlers about the color, shape, and texture of the pompoms. Count out loud as each pompom is pushed into the shaker. When all the pompoms are in the caterpillar, remove the lid and show how to shake them out.
6. Repeat the game until the toddlers lose interest. Place the basket out of view until a teacher is available to supervise the activity. Replace pompoms as needed to maintain cleanliness.


Be a butterfly
This creative dramatics activity encourages toddlers to move while increasing their vocabulary.


Here’s what you need:
a lightweight scarf for each child and one for you
a small cloth doll
a large open space in the classroom


1. Say to the children, “Let’s pretend you are little caterpillars that change into beautiful butterflies.”
2. Lay a scarf on the floor in front of each toddler and instruct the children to lie on top of their scarves. Lay a scarf in front of you and place the doll on top.
3. Instruct children to do what the doll does as you sing a song about butterflies. Sing the song to the tune of “Wheels on the Bus,” acting out the movements with the doll:


Little caterpillar is crawling around, crawling around, crawling around
Little caterpillar is crawling around, in the yard.
(Doll wriggles around on top of the scarf.)


Big caterpillar is making a chrysalis, making a chrysalis, making a chrysalis
Big caterpillar is making a chrysalis, in the yard.
(Doll rolls into a ball and covers head with a scarf.)


Pretty butterfly is flying around, flying around, flying around
Pretty butterfly is flying around, in the yard.
(Doll picks up the scarf and flies with it.)


Variation: Encourage older toddlers to do their own interpretive dances of the butterfly life cycle.


Monarch butterfly life cycle mobile
(3 to 5 years)
This free play art activity builds on information introduced with a picture book.


Here’s what you need:
picture book that contains realistic illustrations or photos of the Monarch butterfly life cycle:

When Butterflies Cross the Sky by Sharon Katz Cooper (2015)

Monarchs by Gail Gibbons (2006)

Monarch Come Play with Me by Ba Rea (1998)
yarn or string cut into 6-inch lengths
glue sticks
paper plates (8-inch diameter)
safety scissors
green, brown, orange, and white construction paper (and/or precut shapes of leaves, caterpillars, pupa, butterflies)


1. Read the picture book to the children. Name and explain the stages of the life cycle. Talk about the shapes of each stage: circular eggs on the tear-drop-shaped milkweed leaf; tubular caterpillar, triangle-shaped chrysalis, and winged butterfly.
2. Draw a big spiral on each paper plate. Invite children to cut along the line. Assist younger children to cut along the spiral. Label the plate with the child’s name.
3. Arrange materials on a table so that children have easy access to them.
4. Invite children to cut out and decorate their representations of the four stages. Encourage individual creativity without requiring realistic imitations. For example, some children may prefer to decorate the precut shapes, some will create their own representations, and others may combine the two. Remember that the purpose is to reinforce children’s knowledge of the Monarch life cycle.
5. Assist children to tape one end of the string to the shape and the other end to the paper plate. Do this for every shape the children want attached to their paper plates—even if they are all caterpillars! As you assist the children, encourage them to name each of their shapes and talk about what happens in each stage of the life cycle.
6. Hang the life cycle art from the ceiling with a string attached to the top of the spirals.


Metamorphosis of the Monarch
(3 to 5 years)
This creative dramatic activity encourages children to use movement to act out the four stages of the Monarch’s life cycle (Adapted from activity created by Joy Lewallen at


Here’s what you need:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1994)
large drawing (colored, mounted, and laminated) or picture of each stage of the life cycle (Large drawings are available from The Children’s Butterfly Site at ).


1. Read the picture book to the children. Name and explain the stages of the life cycle, referring to the large drawing. Explain that these stages are called metamorphosis, which means change in form (shape).
2. Invite children to pretend to be butterflies and that the rug or space where they are sitting is a field of flowers. Demonstrate the following directions:
Egg: Sit on the floor, grasp your knees, and touch your chin to your chest.
Caterpillar: Ask what hatches from the egg. Stretch out on the floor and wriggle around.
Chrysalis: Ask what the caterpillar becomes. Stand still and cross your arms tightly across the chest.
Butterfly: Ask what pushes its way out of the chrysalis. Stretch your arms (wings) out and slowly begin to flutter them. Fly around the field looking for nectar in flowering plants.
3. Ring a bell or flick the lights to signal that it’s time to return to the field. Greet the children by name and ask them to sit while they sip nectar. Discuss what was their favorite part about going through metamorphosis.

Variation: Invite older children and children familiar with creative dramatics to come up with their own poses for each stage. Acknowledge all the children’s efforts.


Wing symmetry
(3 to 5 years)
This activity will introduce children to the concept of symmetry in nature. (Adapted from an activity from Rosenblatt 1998.)


Here’s what you need:
A picture book that contains realistic illustrations or photos of the Monarch butterfly life cycle:

When Butterflies Cross the Sky by Sharon Katz Cooper (2015)

Monarchs by Gail Gibbons (2006)

Monarch Come Play with Me by Ba Rea (1998)
sheets of 8 ½- by 11-inch white construction paper
several colors of tempera paint
paint cups and brushes


1. Set up the art table so that each child has access to the tempera paint cups and brushes. Place a piece of write construction paper at each place.
2. Read the picture book, calling children’s attention to the symmetry of the butterfly wing—that is, the wings on both sides are alike.
3. Invite children to the art table and demonstrate how to fold the paper in half. Instruct them to paint blobs of different colors on one side of the paper. (Older children may want to place the blobs of paint in a butterfly wing shape.) Then fold the paper and press it lightly. Unfold the paper so it lays flat.
4. Ask what children notice about the two sides of the picture. They are symmetrical, just like butterfly wings in nature.

Variation: Create a display of symmetrical and asymmetrical objects in the science/discovery center. Place two baskets on the table, one labeled, Symmetrical and the other labeled, Asymmetrical. Encourage children to sort the objects into the two baskets. Ask about their choices, “What is symmetrical (or asymmetrical) about this object?”


Observing Monarch caterpillars in the classroom
This activity will encourage children to make objective, hands-on descriptions of Monarch caterpillars. (Adapted from an activity at

Note: Reflect upon the care required by caterpillars before offering this activity. (See resources at end of the article.) These small creatures are like any other classroom pet: they need daily care. The larvae require daily feedings of fresh milkweed leaves, their cages must be cleaned daily, diseased caterpillars must be quarantined, and so on. If, upon reflection, you decide you don’t have the time or resources to provide this daily care, you may want to offer an alternate activity.


Here’s what you need:
large pieces of blank newsprint
cage or aquarium to house caterpillars
mesh cover for cage or aquarium
small containers, such as petri dishes, to hold larvae while they are being observed
magnifying glasses
journal for each child
fresh milkweed leaves (20-30 leaves for each larva)
Monarch caterpillars (See resources)


You can raise all the larvae in one large container or you can divide them among smaller containers. Children can gather in small groups around the smaller containers.


1. Before introducing caterpillars, explain the importance of washing hands before and after handling them.
2. Discuss how to safely and gently pick up and hold caterpillars.
3. Ask: “What do you know about Monarch butterflies?” Brainstorm with the children and list their responses on the newsprint. Tape the list to a wall visible to the children.
4. Ask: “What do you want to learn about Monarchs?” Brainstorm with the children and list their responses on the newsprint. Tape the second list close to the first list.
5. Provide opportunities for children to view an actual metamorphosis on two videos:

• The Monarch caterpillar slowly hatches from its tiny egg and eats its first meal at

• The chrysalis forms and the butterfly emerges in time lapse photography at
6. Instruct the children to wash their hands before touching the caterpillars.
7. Divide children into small groups. Provide each group with a magnifying glass and one or two larvae in a small container.
8. Brainstorm and list children’s observations on newsprint. Stimulate ideas by asking questions about the caterpillars’ colors, patterns of colors, size, shape, behaviors, legs, and so on.
9. Consider asking additional questions, such as the following:

• How do caterpillars move?

• What are they eating? How do they eat? Can you see teeth?

• What do caterpillars do when they touch each other?

• What do they do in your hand? What happens when you touch them?

• How do you think they see?
10. Instruct the children to gently return the caterpillars to the containers. Collect the containers, return the caterpillars to the large cage or aquarium, and secure the mesh cover.

Variations: Repeat this activity with the chrysalides. Repeat it when adult butterflies emerge, but keep them in a cage rather than a dish. Ask children to compare caterpillars and butterflies: Do they have the same number of legs? How do their legs differ? How are their eyes different? How do they eat? What colors are on the caterpillar and butterfly?


Creating a Monarch habitat wall mural
This group activity works best after children are familiar with the four stages of the life cycle. It also would work well as an introduction to creating an outdoor Monarch habitat. (Adapted from an activity on


Here’s what you need:
access to butterfly habitat
milkweed and nectar-producing plants (See resources)
pictures of nectar sources and milkweed (See resources)
large drawing paper for mural
crayons, color pencils, markers
glue sticks
safety scissors
space for mural on bulletin board or wall


1. Take children for walk in a butterfly garden or a nearby park. If not available, provide pictures or videos of Monarch habitats. See a video at
2. Brainstorm and list children’s responses about what a Monarch needs to survive.
Egg: tender, young milkweed leaves; warmth; undisturbed time to hatch
Caterpillar: 20-30 fresh milkweed leaves (gets moisture from fresh leaves); protection from predators; undisturbed time as it molts; a safe place to attach itself as it becomes a chrysalis
Chrysalis: a safe place to attach; undisturbed time to pupate
Butterfly: undisturbed time to emerge from chrysalis; nectar-producing flowering plants; source of water; mineral-rich soil to sip
3. Introduce the concept of habitat. A habitat contains all the things a living creature needs to survive, including many kinds of plants and animals.
4. Inform children that they will create a Monarch habitat mural.
5. Provide examples of local flowering plants and milkweed as well as art materials. Invite them to draw or cut out pictures that illustrate the Monarch life cycle as well as its habitat. Provide glue to attach pictures to the mural and markers to label them.
6. Talk with children as they create the mural. Remember that the purpose is to reinforce their knowledge of the Monarch life cycle and habitat, rather than create realistic representations.

Variations: Visit a local butterfly habitat or nature area with the children throughout the school year to document seasonal changes in the habitat. Provide children with journals or help them make journals to document their observations. They can draw and/or write down what they see. Take photos of the seasonal changes to post on the mural. Back in the classroom, talk with the children about what they saw, heard, touched, and smelled. Discuss what was the same and what was different about the habitats. List children’s contributions and post the list close to the habitat mural.


Observing Monarchs in nature
This field trip is most effective after children participate in discussions about the Monarch habitat and life cycle.


Here’s what you need:
large piece of newsprint or drawing paper to record brainstorming
crayons, color pencils, markers
journal for each child
space for list on wall or bulletin board
access to butterfly habitat
adult volunteers, such as family members


1. Contact local and state parks, biology departments at nearby colleges, or botanical gardens for information about the best places to see Monarchs. Local parks can be an appropriate destination if they have milkweed and nectar-producing flowers. Ask about the best observing time. In Texas, for example, the best time in the spring and fall is from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and in the summer, between 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 pm.
2. Follow your program’s policies for field trips. Plan a route, and arrange for a transportation.
3. Inform adult volunteers about safety precautions, guidance, snacks, restroom breaks, and so on. Remind adults and children what to observe and provide a printed list or labeled pictures.
4. After arriving at the destination, divide children into small groups, each with a teacher or adult volunteer. Remind children of safety rules and encourage them to use their eyes, ears, and nose in observing.
5. Provide adults with a list of places butterflies are likely to be:

• hilltops, where young males and females congregate

• mud puddles, where males gather to sip salt

• thick vegetation, where butterflies feel safe

• exposed areas on cool mornings, where butterflies open their wings and bask in the sunshine to get warm
6. Move from group to group, discussing their observations and helping them locate items on the list.
7. Encourage children to record their observations in their journals.
8. Back in the classroom, brainstorm and list children’s observations on a large sheet of newsprint.
9. Read the list and post it where children can see it.


Butterflies taste with their feet! Do you?
This activity helps children learn more by making amusing comparisons between the Monarch’s and a human’s sense organs.


Here’s what you need:
Monarch Come Play with Me by Ba Rea (1998)
chart of a Monarch’s sense receptors
an enlarged, realistic drawing or picture of a Monarch butterfly (colored, mounted, laminated)
multiple copies of small pictures or drawings of the human mouth/tongue, nose, hand, eyes, and ears to use as labels
two-sided tape or sticky putty


1. Attach labels to back of the enlarged picture or drawing so they are within easy reach. Tape a copy of chart to the back of the picture so you can refer to it as needed.
2. Read Monarch Come Play with Me to children. Open the book to the pertinent page as you talk about each comparison:

• Children like to play. What does the caterpillar do? (Eat and eat)

• Children like to eat apples. What does the caterpillar like to eat? (Milkweed leaves)

• Children’s skin grows as they get bigger. What happens to the caterpillar’s skin as the caterpillar gets bigger? (Molts/sheds skin. A new layer of skin is under the old, tight skin.)

• Children have bowel movements. What about the caterpillar? (Frass)

• Children can hang by their knees for a little while. What can the caterpillar hang by for a long time? (Its feet)

• Children are busy at school. What is the caterpillar busy doing in the chrysalis? (Changing into a butterfly)

• Children can pretend to fly. What can the butterfly do? (Fly away)
3. Hold up enlarged picture of the Monarch butterfly so all children can see it. Talk about each of these comparisons:

• What do you use to smell flowers? (Nose) The butterfly smells with its antennae and wings. (Place nose labels by antennae and wings.)

• What do you use to taste food? (Mouth/tongue) The butterfly tastes flowers with its feet and legs. (Place mouth/tongue labels by feet and legs.)

• What do you use to feel a flower? (Hands/fingers) The butterfly feels flowers and leaves with its antennae and hairs on its body. (Place hand/fingers labels by antennae and body.)

• What do you use to see caterpillars and butterflies? (Two eyes) The butterfly sees with thousands of tiny eyes inside its two big eyes. (Place eye labels by butterfly eyes.)

• What do you use to hear sounds made by birds? (Ears) The butterfly hears birds with its chest (thorax) and wings. (Place ear labels by butterfly thorax and wings.)

Variations: Place the book, enlarged drawing, and basket of labels in the library/book center. Help individual children or small groups of children to place labels on the drawing. Add words (Taste, Smell, Touch, See, Hear) to the picture labels to enhance the literacy component of the activity.


Butterfly gardening
(All ages)
Digging a garden and caring for plants together can build a sense of community for children and their families. A garden full of nectar-producing flowers and milkweed will attract Monarchs. (Adapted from an activity at

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center ( offers abundant information to create a phenomenal butterfly garden, including which milkweed plants and wildflowers are native to your area, how to attract Monarchs, and how K-12 schools can apply for seed grants.


Here’s what you need:
a sunny space, protected from foot traffic
pots of different sizes for container gardening
a source of water
native milkweed seedlings
native flowering plants
gardening tools
gardening soil
family volunteers
thank-you notes
children’s journals


1. Choose a protected area that is sunny from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
2. Decide what type of garden will work for your program—for example, an outdoor plot, containers, or a window box.
3. Determine which flowering and milkweed plants are native to your area. Locate a supplier at Caution: Tropical milkweed disrupts the migration and can sicken the butterflies (Wade 2015).
4. Discuss with children how the garden will attract butterflies and other interesting insects. Discuss the needs of the Monarch at each stage of metamorphosis.
5. Brainstorm what needs to be done to plant and maintain a butterfly garden. Make a list of tasks that need to be completed before, during, and after planting the garden.
6. Determine how you will involve families in planting and maintaining the garden. Set a planting date.
7. Provide children with art supplies to create invitations. Include a letter to families about how they can be involved. Include tasks that require varying levels of involvement so all families have options that fit their busy schedules (for example, contribute funds, buy plants, gather tools, coordinate volunteers, arrange materials for gardening day tasks, help dig or prepare the soil, water garden on weekends, take photos of the garden, and use photos to create a memory book about seasonal changes).
8. Assign tasks to children or let them choose.
9. On planting day, greet families and verify their tasks.
10. Prepare the soil. Turn it over and add fertilizer.
11. Plant seedlings.
12. Apply mulch to prevent soil erosion, maintain soil moisture, and slow weed growth.
13. After planting day, brainstorm a thank-you letter for families’ involvement. Provide art materials for children to decorate the letter. Post it where families and children can view it. Send individual thank-you notes to families that helped with tasks.
14. Set up a schedule for weekly garden maintenance (watering, weeding, and replacing mulch).
15. Designate a time to observe the garden once a week as a class. Children can draw or write their observations in their journals.
16. Develop a plan for caring for the garden over the summer. Invite families to participate in garden maintenance.

Variations: Provide seeds, soil, and small containers for each child. Discuss with children the care needed for their seedlings. Designate a time each week when children will track growth of their seedlings over time.


If you have questions about Monarchs and planning a butterfly garden, visit the websites of the organizations below:
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:
Monarch Watch:
Florida Museum of Natural History:
Flight of the Butterflies:
The Children’s Butterfly Site:

Barkman, Patrick. March 15, 2015. Wings of desire: How butterflies have captivated artists, The Guardian,
Butterfly Fun Facts. n.d. Rearing Butterflies from Eggs. Retrieved 2/6/2017.
Center for Pollinator Research, Penn State. n.d. What are pollinators and why do we need them? Retrieved 2/12/2017.
Fields, Helen. 2013. Science shot: Wax moth has most sensitive ears in insect world.
Flight of the Butterflies. n.d. Butterfly: All About the Monarch Butterfly.
Flight of the Butterflies. n.d. The Discovery Story, Retrieved 12/28/2017.
Florida Museum, University of Florida. n.d. Butterfly Q&A. Retrieved 2/6/2017.
Goldcroft, Harry. 2014. Monarch Butterfly. Devon, UK.: PIB Publishing.
Monarch Watch. n.d. Monarch Watch Biology, Anatomy, Retrieved 1/28/2017.
Quinn, Mike and Mark Klym. June 2009. An introduction to butterfly watching, revised. Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department .
Rea, Ba. 2010. Learning from Monarchs: A Teachers’ Handbook. Union, West Virginia.: Bas Relief Publishing Group.
Rosenblatt, Lynn M. 1998. Monarch Magic! Butterfly Activities and Nature Discoveries. Nashville, Tenn.: Williamson Book. n.d. Butterfly Life Cycle/Butterfly Metamorphosis.
University of Kentucky, Department of Horticulture. n.d. All About Butterflies.
Wade, Lizzie. Jan. 13, 2015. Plan to save monarch butterflies backfires,, American Association for the Advancement of Science,