Free Nature Studies: Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies live very short lives, progressing from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly.

Read the current chapter online: “Butterflies and Moths”

  • Capture butterflies and observe their life cycle.  There are several options:
    • Capture the butterfly and keep it until it lays eggs as described in the lesson.
    • If possible, capture a black swallowtail butterfly as described in the Handbook of Nature study on page 303.
    • Capture a monarch butterfly as described in the Handbook of Nature Study on pg. 308.
    • Order a kit that provides all you need to safely raise butterflies.  See resources below for the one we have used several times with success.
    • Find a chrysalis to bring into the house in a safe, netted cage and watch what comes out. Take care; this is a bit more tricky to accomplish.
  • Investigate the different types of butterflies.  Make a chart showing their similarities and differences, where they are typically found, what they eat, where they lay their eggs, what their chrysalis looks like, and include a picture of the adult butterfly.
  • Compare and contrast butterflies and moths.  Many of the differences were pointed out in the lesson.
  • Make a list of the different ways butterflies defend themselves.
  • Make a butterfly garden that attracts butterflies throughout the growing season.  You’ll find plans and ideas in the resources below.
  • Something to do #1: Robert Graves’ poem “The Caterpillar” can be found in his 1918 poetry book, Fairies and Fusiliers.
  • Something to do #2: There are many patterns online to help with making the Easter card.  Here is just one idea.
  • Something to do #3, 4, & 5: Keep a butterfly observation sheet.  You can add to it throughout your entire life! Very nice observation forms are included in the Butterfly Lapbook listed in the resources below.
  • Something to do #6: The narration exercise can be written in the notebook for older students or told by a younger student and transcribed by Mom, then placed in the notebook.  Older students may be interested in substituting a more encyclopedia-type essay.
  • Something to do #7: You’ll find butterfly notebooking pages below.
  • Read “The Example” by W.M. Davies.
  • Read “A Caterpillar’s Apology for Eating a Favorite Gladiolus” by Charles Dalmon.
  • Read “A Lesson of Faith” from Parables from Nature by Mrs. Alfred Gatty.
  • Use the Bible verse listed for copywork or dictation.
  • More of the butterfly’s story from the Book of Knowledge:

Human genius has never invented anything lovelier than a butterfly, nor anything so wonderful. In the lore and legend of the ancients, in the fairy tales beloved by us all, nothing exceeds the surprise, the startling succession from repulsiveness to dainty charm, of this creature’s strange career.

It is a delightful fact that any child may observe for himself the entire amazing life-cycle of these little wonder people of the gardens and the wilds. You can see it all, and if you have a camera you can photograph each step in this wonderful life-story. It begins with the tiny egg which the mother butterfly or moth deposits upon a branch (each kind seems to prefer its own special kind of plant, or tree). From the egg hatches a tiny wormlike grub, which grows into a caterpillar with an enormous appetite. You can feed it with its favorite leaves and watch it grow too big for its skin. You can take pictures as it spins a case around itself, and goes to sleep. One day, you can see the covering of the case split open. Out comes a winged thing of the air, lovely as a floating flower — a perfect butterfly or moth.

Men who have studied the subject all their lives have sought to classify the eggs, in the hope of recognizing species by them, but the attempt fails. Take the eggs from their natural surroundings and mix them with others, and they are hopeless as a guide….

The ugly word Lepidoptera is the scientific name given to the whole order of moths and butterflies. It tells in a single group of letters the magic of the butterfly’s glories. All these insects have their wings covered with scales, and the scientific name means “scale-winged”….

The color we seem to see on these glittering wings is not pigment; it is the effect of light reflected by the scales as if they were so many tiny diamonds. The colors rival those of the most gorgeous humming-bird, the vainest peacock, the gayest flower; and all this brilliance of color is only the effect of light. Butterfly beauty is indeed light shattered on scales too fine for the unaided eye to see apart from one another.

“Butterflies and Moths,” The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Complete Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly
Video produced for the Chicago Nature Museum.
(You may want to install an ad blocker before viewing.)


How to Find Butterfly Eggs
Explanation and photos at

Free Nature Studies: Butterflies & Moths

Insect Lore Live Butterfly Garden
For those who want an observation “kit,” this includes everything you need to raise painted-lady butterflies. We have had great success with these.  You do need to send in the certificate to have the live larvae mailed to you for a small processing fee.  The butterfly tent that is included is reusable.

Creating a Butterfly Garden
These plans at the University of Minnesota are nicely detailed.

Fragile Butterfly
How to sculpt a butterfly out of clay.  From Crayola.

The Butterfly and Moth Coloring Book
Black and white images to color along with the painted original.

Celery and Pretzel Butterflies
Cute and yummy craft at!

Free Nature Studies: Butterflies & Moths

The Butterfly Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta
A personal favorite.  One butterfly for each letter of the alphabet.  Beautifully illustrated.  (If you enjoy this one, you won’t be disappointed in the Icky Bug Book.)

Butterflies Worth Knowing by Clarence M. Weed
Beautiful book in the public domain.  The first part of the book provides helpful information about butterflies including butterfly transformations, migrations, colorations, defense mechanisms, how to rear butterflies from caterpillars, and how to photograph butterflies, among other topics.  The second part of the book illustrates the different butterfly families with 32 color plates to help with identification.  Part of the Little Nature Library published in 1922.

Butterflies and Moths by William S. Furneaux
Another public domain work, but more advanced for the older student.  Classification information included.  Helpful illustrations will aid in notebook creation.

Butterflies {Free Download}

Butterflies {Free Download}
The “Butterflies” issue from the Mentor Association was written by Dr. W. J. Holland, who at the time was the director of the Carnegie Institute. The issue tells of his start in butterfly collecting and how that led him to learn all that he could about butterflies (he wrote at least two books on the subject).

The Butterfly Book
The Butterfly Book covers the anatomy and classification of North American butterflies. It is a free eBook in the public domain.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Butterfly Anatomy
At  You may also be interested in the labeling activity.

Monarch Life Cycle
Nice printout for notebook.

Caterpillar Anatomy
Another nice printout for notebook at

Butterflies A-Flutter
Nature journal page from Ranger Rick.

Nature Journal Notebooking Sets {Free Download}

Nature Journal Notebooking Sets {Free Download}
Free blank nature journal sets for drawing, illustrating, copying, or narrating.

Butterflies & Moths Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for Something to Do #6 and #7, copywork, narrations, and wrapping up.

Enjoy the complete series:
Free Nature Studies: Our Wonderful World
Free Nature Studies: Our Wonderful World

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