Cheat Sheets: Butterflies

Young Swallowtail Butterflies

If you have ever spent a few minutes with any child, you will know that they can come up with questions that stump you.  I have seen experts in a field being taken completely aback by the complex question asked by a 5 year old.  I have also seen those same experts sputter and blush as they have to admit something that no one likes to admit.  “I don’t know.”

As a mother, I have said that sentence a million times and every time I feel a sharp pain behind my eyes, a reminder that maybe I’m letting my kids down because I do not know the surface gravity of Mars and how many Earths will fit into the Sun.  When I do admit defeat and end up saying those dreaded words, I end up explaining for 15 minutes how I couldn’t possibly know everything there is to know in the world.  My kids are always surprised by this and argue with me that I probably know it but I just can’t remember.

At times like that, I wish that I had a little cheat sheet handy with all the little tidbits of knowledge that my children are trying to glean from me.  “Surface gravity of Mars, no problem, it’s 0.4 times the Earth’s surface gravity.  How many Earth’s fit in the sun? No problem there either, a million earths would.”  These answers would be accompanied by me shuffling through my cheat sheets but I would feel great answering the questions.  Of course, knowing my luck, my kid’s would then ask a question that no one else has ever thought to ask and I would be stuck answering it the same way as I always do, with a sigh and a “I don’t know.”

So I thought I would provide you with some cheat sheets for a new feature here and since spring is here, I thought it would be great to start with Butterflies.

To start, I am going to tell you ways to determine the difference between moths and butterflies.  I’m sure that you will have to spend your days identifying every butterfly and moth your child is fortunate to catch so why not have a cheat sheet to determine what it is you are looking at.

Surprisingly, there are only four things you need to know to determine if you are looking at a butterfly or a moth and those are:

  • The Antenna:  Butterflies have long thin antennas that have a club at the end of them.  Moths usually have antennas that look like feathers or their antennas are long and thin but do not have the club
  • The Thorax: Moths have a larger, plumper body that is usually fuzzy where butterflies generally have a thinner body that is smooth.
  • Wings at Rest: If you have ever watched a butterfly rest on the petal of a flower, you may have noticed that it rests with its wings together.  This is a common trait of all butterflies.  Moths on the other hand, rest with their wings open.
  • Time of Day:  The general rule of thumb is that butterflies are out during the day and moths are out at night.  There are some periods in the day, usually early evening, when you can find moths and butterflies and there are some of both species that can be seen both day and night.

And that is it for differences between butterflies and moths but what now.  What if your child suddenly wants to know the life cycle of a butterfly?  Although I have always been a big fan of the Very Hungry Caterpillar, it isn’t the most accurate book on the life cycle of a butterfly.  Let’s face it, very few caterpillars have the opportunity to eat chocolate cake.

For the cheat sheet you should know that Butterflies have a 4 stage life cycle:

  • Egg
  • Caterpillar where it will loose several layers of skin until it eventually prepares for the next stage
  • Pupa or Chrysalis
  • Butterfly

It is very simple and kids love to learn about the life-cycle.  If you are looking for some great sites about butterflies, I would suggest visiting Enchanted Learning where they have many activities that are centered around learning about Butterflies.  They even have an anatomy coloring page that is wonderful.

I would also recommend the Butterfly Website for information and pictures of butterflies. It is not geared towards kids but with a little browsing, you can make it.

If you have any other cheat sheet facts about Butterflies, please feel free to share them or let me know what other cheat sheets you would like.

So enjoy the season and happy butterfly hunting.

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