5 Days of Summer Science – Day 3

Summer Science seriesYesterday was all about the number one pollinator (bees) and today is about the number two pollinator: moths and butterflies.  Once again, this is a topic that can be easily expanded to a week, or more!  However, if you get the chance, and have a sunny day, take a look around you and see if you and your children can spot some butterflies.  If your day is too busy, then I am sure that a light on in the evening will attract some moths.  Even if you are not having a sunny day you can still do many of the comparisons that I will suggest because there are many, many pictures on the internet of both moths and butterflies.

I particularly love this subject because here at the University of Florida we have the largest (or second largest since we go back and forth with London) collection of lepidoptera in the world!  Lepidoptera (Greek roots, meaning scale wings) is the order of insects that includes moths and butterflies.  Both have wings made of scales and undergo complete metamorphosis, meaning that their body shape changes from a caterpillar into a moth or butterfly.

Try to get up close to a butterfly or a moth as it is resting.  How many legs does it have? (6)  Can you see the three body parts (head, thorax, abdomen)?  What do the antenna look like?  Is the body plump or thin?  During what time of the day did you find it?  How does a butterfly get nectar from a plant? (watch it unfurl its probiscis while slurping up nectar)

Caterpillar shedding the last larval skin
Caterpillar shedding the last larval skin

If you have any caterpillars in your garden, then it would be fun to watch them too for a few moments.  Notice that caterpillars only have 6 true legs since they are insects…the others are what we call prolegs.  The job of a caterpillar is too eat like crazy!  Each time their body gets too big for their skin they shed it to reveal a roomier version underneath.  When a butterfly caterpillar is large enough it goes to find a sheltered spot, splits its last larval skin to reveal a chrysallis, and after a few hours the chrysallis hardens and the body begins the process of metamorphosis.  Moths generally spin cocoons and pupate inside of a cocoon.

If you find yourself with some more time and interest following your initial observation period, then you may want to delve more into the differences between moths and butterflies.  When do you usually notice them flying around? (moths in the evening, butterflies in the daytime)  Which are generally more colorful? (butterflies)  What is different about their antenna? (butterfly antenna are ball on the end of a stick shape and moths have feathery antenna)  What is different about their bodies? (moths have fatter bodies and have more scales so they appear to be fuzzier)

gulf fritallary caterpillar
gulf fritallary caterpillar

Further questions/ideas to investigate:  What is a host plant?  What is a nectar plant?  What species are common to our area and how can we attract them?  What are compound eyes?  How do they smell?  Why do Monarchs migrate and do other species?

Oh the questions that we could ask and the activities that we could do, but I shall stop myself now.  Please leave me a comment and let me know what you spotted in your area.


Helpful websites:

http://www.gardenswithwings.com/identify-butterflies.html – identification site for butterflies

http://facweb.furman.edu/~snyderjohn/leplist/ – images and identification site for moths

http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/ – look under the Regional Guides tab to generate a list of species for your area

http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/education/guides/butterfly-guide.pdf – an enormous teacher’s packet from the Florida Museum of Natural History, page 22 is a quick activity to identify which drawing is a moth and which are butterflies

http://www.monarchwatch.org/rear/index.htm – how to raise monarch butterflies



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