My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

Butterflies and Kids

summer azure
Summer Azure

Children are naturally attracted to butterflies and moths, just as they are to birds. However, unless you have a busy bird feeder or larger raptors flying around, it can be difficult for kids to locate birds in the wild. Songbirds do not typically sit still long enough to be seen and can quickly disappear as fast as they arrive. I myself have a hard time seeing many of the birds I hear fluttering around the trees and shrubs.

Cecropia Silkmoth
Cecropia in hand

It wasn’t until I observed hundreds of butterflies and moths that I realized they could be easier for kids to approach than birds. I would just tell the kids, “If you chase the butterfly, you are probably not going to catch it. If you let it fly around and settle down, then you can learn its new resting position. You can then sneak up with out alarming it.” I learned that half the fun for kids is trying to get as close as possible without spooking it and trying to capture it with a butterfly net.

D and the Great Spangled Fritillary
Young Naturalist D and a Great Spangled Fritillary

With a quick swipe of the butterfly net you can safely capture a specimen to view it for a longer period of time. Placing the butterfly or moth in a clear plastic container allows you to view it in its natural resting position. After you make your observation you can safely release the insect back into the wild.

Common Ringlet on Finger
Common Ringlet on my finger

While the insect is inside the container, record your observations in a field journal. Take you time and look carefully to appreciate its natural beauty. The sketches in your journal along with a field guide can help you identify the butterfly from the field marks on its wings.

boy and the skipper
Boy and Long-dashed Skipper

Butterflies and moths have unique colored scales on their wings. Some scientist believe that these scales evolved to help them avoid capture in spider webs. Because their scales are lost so easily when caught in a web, they can quickly escape without being eaten.

Eastern Comma
Eastern Comma on my finger

It is very important that the wings of butterflies or moths are not handled when captured. The oil from your fingers is enough to remove the scales from the wings and increase its chances of being caught in a spider web. All captives should thus be handled with as much care as possible.

A Child Having Fun
Boy at the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory

Butterflies and moths give many opportunities to enjoy nature with kids, whether you’re visiting one of the many fine butterfly conservatories now available or just looking for butterflies and moths in your backyard.


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This post was part of an article I wrote for the Summer 2004 – Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Naturalist History – “Guide” Newsletter.

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23 responses

  1. Cool! Very cool, Tom. And very educational for all of us.

    24 November 2007 at 8:31 pm

  2. Wow!! Great Butterfly pic’s, and very informative!
    Also great earlier post’s…beautiful shot of the cardinal, and great turkey pic! ~Hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving!!
    So much fun viewing nature through your eye’s!!
    Cat

    24 November 2007 at 10:28 pm

  3. Wonderful pictures, they’re so delicate and tiny! I didn’t realize how fragile the wings are. Thanks for the info 🙂

    24 November 2007 at 10:42 pm

  4. @ Mary – thanks and glad you enjoyed!
    @ Catherine – thanks for your kind words! I am happy to share with everyone!
    @ Chicago – thanks and do need to be careful with them!

    24 November 2007 at 11:05 pm

  5. Nifty! I wish we had more butterflies. You are very good at making the natural world accessible to children (and their caregivers).

    24 November 2007 at 11:12 pm

  6. I keep telling Isabelle and Lorelei, “Don’t chase the butterflies, you ninnies!” but they don’t listen.
    That cecropia is like something from another planet! I never paid attention to moths until this year, and I was blown away with all the beauty and variety.

    Great shots, Tom! And great article, too.

    24 November 2007 at 11:55 pm

  7. When I’m tiptoeing around the pond for a good shot of a butterfly, you have them sitting on your fingers :o) Actually, I do know I shouldn’t chase them – but stalking is OK, right?

    Great post and thanks for the good info, Tom.

    25 November 2007 at 12:09 am

  8. Such sweet photos of the litle ones with the butterflies and moths. ~nita~

    25 November 2007 at 12:44 am

  9. I like the new layout Tom. :c) Love the pretty butterflies and the happy kids getting to see them up close and personal.

    25 November 2007 at 8:24 am

  10. Ohhh, I love the cecropia photo – well, I love them all, but that one is amazing. Do you see many luna moths there? Great article, Mon@rch! 😀

    25 November 2007 at 8:37 am

  11. I really enjoyed these pictures. I love seeing children so delighted from nature. I just read your sidebar. I didn’t know you had the other blog about identifying birds. It’s terrific!

    25 November 2007 at 11:00 am

  12. @ Trixie – I bet the ones you have up there are great butterflies! Thanks
    @ Susan – They can follow them but just watch where they land! Then they can go after them! Thanks Susan!
    @ Nita – thanks and it was a great one that I was happy to share!
    @ Jayne – Thanks but didn’t like the comments part! I changed it back! Up close and personally is the only way I know to view them!
    @ Pam – They are amazing for sure and yes we do get the Luna’s! Thanks!
    @ Erie – Thanks for enjoying and YN-J has kinda taken it over! Do visit birdQUIZ and please give the birds a try~!

    25 November 2007 at 11:19 am

  13. Great butterfly and moth shots. The first time I saw a Hyaloflora Euryalus I was an instant convert. I had never seen anything so beautiful. Your cecropia reminds me of it. Such colors and an amazing wingspan.

    25 November 2007 at 11:52 am

  14. Very nice pictures & advice here, but gads–you’re making me miss the butterfly conservatory terribly! *L* When I was in Canada, as the Summer waned, I found that if I stood out in a sunny spot (I was in the woods,) in a white shirt, every butterfly in the vicinity would flutter over like little heat-seeking magnets. One afternoon I had at least 6 land on me. All it took was about 2 minutes of patience.

    25 November 2007 at 12:38 pm

  15. Tom – this was just precious. The photos and suggestions couldn’t be more engaging. Good job.

    25 November 2007 at 3:37 pm

  16. NaturesPalette

    Every year at the state fair my daughter and I spend hours in the butterfly house. At first when we enter the butterflies seem to ignore us, but after a few minutes we’re covered in them!
    Butterflies are great for kids, we always buy a few monarch caterpillars for release before winter.

    There’s a place in Saint Louis (or around there) that I visited once….it’s just beautiful. They have a year round enclosed butterfly house. I can’t remember what it’s called though. I wish we had something like that closer to home.

    25 November 2007 at 3:54 pm

  17. NatureShutterbug

    Great photos and great tips. If one cannot handle the butterfly wings with one’s hands, how doe one get them on hands and fingers, especially from a net?

    25 November 2007 at 4:35 pm

  18. @ Robin – Thanks and glad you have been able to spend time with an amazing Lep!
    @ Lana – Thanks and you can see more pictures of the Conservancy at http://flickr.com/photos/monarch/sets/1717431/detail/ that will bring back more memories. I hope to do a blog posting on the place some time this winter!
    @ Cathy – thanks and get out this summer to enjoy them!
    @ NaturePalette – So glad you get out to visit the place with your daughter! St. Louis, hmm never heard about that place! Thanks!
    @ NatureShutter – LOL, I knew someone would ask that question! When using a container, you just cover the butterfly and close the lid behind it! The biggest part is getting the oil from you fingers on the wing so that it doesn’t loose scales. You can hold the butterfly by the body but avoid grabbing hold of its big wing (like most want to do)! How do I get them on my finger, well I slowly approach and slowly stick my finger under their body! Those same oils you don’t want on their wing is what gets them to step onto your finger and with its proboscis it will taste your finger~!

    25 November 2007 at 5:39 pm

  19. Thanks for the link to the other Conservancy pix. Wonderful!

    25 November 2007 at 6:05 pm

  20. awesome and loving the photos of the kids!

    26 November 2007 at 8:32 am

  21. Marg

    What a great post-we are talking about having a Winter Flickr Meetup at the Butterfly Conservatory-if you don’t have “Lake Effect” maybe you could make it 🙂

    26 November 2007 at 10:20 am

  22. Excellent shots – particularly of the kids’ expressions while holding those beautiful moths and butterflies.

    26 November 2007 at 7:56 pm

  23. I like this post-I never new about the scales and their purpose before. I’ve never seen a Cecropia before.-Boy that’s a real beauty!

    28 November 2007 at 6:05 pm

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