Butterfly watching is an interesting, educational, fun, and easy activity which can help
students become "special" lepidopterists. An easy butterfly watching project for
students follows the lifecycle of a beautiful monarch butterfly. Butterfly watching home
kits are available for purchase but students can build their own with things they can find
around the house.
A large, clean, clear jar will make butterfly watching easy to do without causing any
disturbance to the delicate creature inside. To ensure a safe environment or home for
the butterfly, the metal lid should have several holes in it to provide plenty of air. This
can be done by pounding nails into the lid with a hammer.
Once you have the jar ready for your butterfly watching project, all you need is a
monarch caterpillar. Again, you can purchase these along with the kits, or separately,
but you can find your own caterpillar. The best time to look for a monarch caterpillar is
around the end of July and August. The places to look for them are in fields or
anywhere that milkweeds are growing.
Monarch butterflies almost always lay their eggs on milkweed leaves. When the egg
hatches, the caterpillar emerges, eats the egg and begins eating on the milkweed leaf.
Carefully turn over the leaves of a milkweed plant. If you find a caterpillar, pick it up
gently and place it in the jar on top of some milkweed leaves. The milkweed leaves will
provide food for the caterpillar. The leaves need to be replaced with fresh new ones
Though a caterpillar is in the jar, butterfly watching can begin by observing the
caterpillar. Soon the caterpillar changes into a chrysalis by attaching to the lid of the
jar and shedding its skin. It starts out soft but soon hardens into a shell. In two weeks
the shell becomes clear and you can see inside the chrysalis. The metamorphosis is
complete and it is time for the butterfly to emerge and wait for its wings to dry and
Butterfly watching is fun to do while the butterfly is in the jar, but that is not the
natural habitat of the butterfly. It is thankful for the safe and quiet place it has had
while your student has been butterfly watching, but it needs to be released. The lid of
the jar can be removed and allow the butterfly to climb out onto your finger so that you
can release it into the air, or just set the jar out with the lid removed and it will fly out
on its own.
Students often want to repeat the experience and wonderment of butterfly watching
each year. Some students may become interested in butterfly watching for the rest of
their lives as a hobby or as lepidopterists; or they might volunteer to rescue butterflies
that are in danger during migration. Students could work together to create butterfly
gardens. Inexpensive seed mixture packets containing seeds of flowers that attract
butterflies can be purchased where other gardening items are sold.
Butterfly watching field trips are offered in some areas, especially in the south. When
monarch butterflies migrate to the south for winter, butterfly watching enthusiasts in
the area are witness to groups of thousands of butterflies flying in groups and clinging to
trees. A student butterfly watching project with only one butterfly is just as amazing
and is an easy project that can be repeated and enjoyed each year.