Let your students spread their wings with this lesson and activity that teaches them about the life cycle of the butterfly. Butterflies are beautiful and delicate, fascinating to watch, and really fun to learn about. Part of the draw of butterfly exploration is that it’s something we can easily see in nature. The gentle fluttering of a butterfly’s wings makes for easy observation. A close eye can find caterpillars and even a chrysalis out in nature. There are tons of projects you can do with your kids or your class to explore the butterfly life cycle for kids. Today we have one of the coolest STEM Projects, a 3D Spinning Model of the Life Cycle of a Butterfly.
Build a Butterfly Life Cycle Model That Spins!
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This lesson is perfect for preschool through early elementary students studying life sciences, biology and nature studies.
Although you can often go outside and find butterflies, depending on the time of year, this isn’t always possible.
One really amazing way to observe butterflies is to visit a butterfly garden. These gardens let you get up close and personal with all kinds of butterfly species, sometimes they even land on you!!!
These pictures are from the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. A quick internet search will lead you to a similar garden close to home! It was so much fun to see all of these butterflies up close and the kids were in awe!
You can also see gorgeous butterflies in Canada at the Butterfly Gardens in Victoria, B.C.
The life cycle of a butterfly or metamorphosis of a butterfly has four simple steps, the egg, the caterpillar or larvae, the chrysalis or pupa, and the butterfly or adult. First we will explore each of those stages, then we will build a special 3D, Spinning Model of the Butterfly Life Cycle. There is even a Butterfly Life Cycle Printable available at the end of this article for your students to use in the classroom. Studying the butterfly life cycle is a wonderful early elementary introduction to biology.
The Life Cycle of a Butterfly
Butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis in which the young differs from the adult in terms of their looks and feeding habits. There are four different stages in the butterfly life cycle. Each stage has a different function or goal. The caterpillars, for example, eat a lot, whereas adults reproduce. Depending on the species of butterfly, these stages last from several weeks to a whole year.
Now let’s look at each stage in more detail.
The first stage is the egg. The butterfly lays its eggs on a leaf that will make good food for them it’s next stage which is the caterpillar. Want a fun butterfly fact? Butterflies have taste receptors on their feet. They land on leaves or sticks to lay their eggs but they need to be sure that it will make good food for their little caterpillar’s first meal when it emerges from the egg. Which leaf is perfect, depends on the species of butterfly. In a Monarch butterfly life cycle, the Monarch’s exclusively lay their eggs on the leaves of the milkweed plant. So the female butterfly finds the perfect type of leaf and lays its butterfly eggs. It can take a few weeks or longer depending on the weather in the area.
The second stage is the caterpillar stage, also known as larva. When it’s ready for hatching the caterpillar will eat its way out of the egg and then just keep on eating that leaf that its mother carefully chose for it. The caterpillar eats and eats and eats and grows really quickly. It will shed its skin multiple times while it is growing and getting ready for its next stage – the chrysalis.
The third stage is really cool. It is when the caterpillar has reached its full size and is ready for a new transformation. It will find a safe branch or underside of a leaf. The butterfly hangs and will spin itself into a chrysalis made of silk fibers and the caterpillar exoskeleton. It is meant to protect and camouflage the caterpillar while transforming itself into a butterfly. The caterpillar will stay in its pupa stage or chrysalis for between five and twenty-one days while an amazing transformation is taking place inside.
Finally, we have the fourth stage. When it is ready, the chrysalis will often become clear and then split open. When it begins to emerge the adult butterfly is full of fluid which it then pumps out into its wet shriveled wings to straighten them up and then let them dry before they are able to take their first flight.
That’s it – the lifecycle of a butterfly – it is so simple and yet such an extraordinary process!
Did You Know? Fun Facts
The smallest butterfly in the world is the Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly is only about half an inch in diameter – in contrast, the largest is the Queen Alexandra Birdwing found in Papua New Guinea, and measures almost 12 inches in diameter.
Butterflies do not have lips or teeth – their tongue is shaped more like straw because they have an exclusively liquid diet.
Butterfly wings are transparent – the amazing colors come from tiny scales that cover the wings- these scales and the intricate patterns they are arranged in are what give the butterflies their gorgeous patterns and colors. Butterflies are the only insect with this type of wings.
A group of butterflies that are flying together is called a flutter.
Butterflies have four wings, two forewings, and two hind wings, and they don’t move simply up and down – they move in a figure-eight pattern.
How To Build A Butterfly Lifecycle Model
Now that you have a clear picture of what happens – how can you share it with your kids or students? One cool way would be to build a 3d model of the four stages of butterfly metamorphosis. This butterfly life cycle craft is unique because it spins and is a 3D model, making it a diorama exploring these incredible creatures.
2 metal pie pans
Plain wood blocks (thick, sturdy cardboard would work too)
Butterfly Stickers (or you can draw your own)
First, paint the wood pieces in a sky and cloud pattern and hot glue them together to form a cross. Then glue them into one of the pie plates to separate the pie plate into four quadrants. Then set that pie plate inside the other pie plate so that it spins.
Next, glue the branches and leaves of the silk plants into the quadrants to build the habitat spaces.
There will be one of each of the four butterfly lifecycle stages, in each of the four quadrants.
In the first stage, to represent the egg put a dollop of hot glue on the leaves in the one of the quadrants.
For the caterpillar stage make a caterpillar by gluing together green pom poms and place it on a leaf so the caterpillar could enjoy their leaf snacks!
In the third quadrant, wrap several leaves into a pupa shape and secure it with hot glue to seal the chrysalis and suspend it from its branch – as a bonus the strings from the hot glue resemble silk strands.
For the final quadrant, mount one of the butterfly decals on a piece of heavy cardstock, cut it out and mounted it on a clip so it could easily “fly” in the final quadrant.
The Butterfly Life Cycle Model is finished!
Pro Tip! Use smaller pie plates and wood boards, to make individual models with each student.
Students can easily spin the model around to look at all of the different stages for discussion and observation.
The butterfly life cycle for kids is a great cross-subject tie-in – you can use it for science, ELA sentence writing and sequencing, online research skills, art, observation… the list goes on.
Looking for another fun way to explore the Butterfly Life Cycle? Why not have the kids make a Stop Motion Model of the stages of the Butterfly Life Cycle? We have a detailed tutorial here on how to make Stop Motion with simple tools.
Butterfly Life Cycle Printable
To help with building your lesson plans, grab this printable to use with your class! Simply join the STEAM Powered Family mailing list to unlock it. As members you get access to lots of educational resources, activity ideas and more.
Also, don’t miss out on our Life Cycle Code Breakers activity pack, to explore the life cycles of even more animals, insects and plants.
I hope you enjoy the amazing metamorphosis of the butterfly through the eyes of the littles around you!