Updated: Apr 5
For the last month I've been posting reels on instagram @drdianeadventures, taking friends on a journey through the life cycle stages of painted lady butterflies. Along the way, we learned some amazing facts about these beautiful and fascinating creatures, and discovered some wonderful children's literature and STEM/STEAM activity pairings we can do. To honor the release of the butterflies and the end of this project, I thought I'd highlight some of the books and activities we used and encourage you to check them out.
Fun Facts About Caterpillars, Butterflies, and Metamorphosis
Did you know that for every pound of human on earth, there are an estimated 300 pounds of insects? Or that the painted lady butterfly stays migrates from Africa to Northern Europe and that it can take up to six generations of the butterflies to make the round trip (That's like your great-great-great grandparents started the journey and you finished it!) Check out these facts and more in Steve Jenkin's Insects by the Numbers.
Did you know that a butterfly caterpillar is always hungry? It's constantly eating, grinding and breaking down food with its huge jaws. The caterpillar sheds its skin several times during its larva phase to keep up with its huge appetite and growing body. See glorious photographs, learn about camouflage, habitat, life cycles, and more in Seymour Simon's Butterflies.
Did you know that people in the Middle Ages believed that insects were evil? Check out the story of Maria Merian, a young naturalist who took the time to observe and document the life cycle of the butterfly. Margarita Engle and Julie Paschkis lovingly portray this real-life story in Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian.
Find out why butterflies were made in Zora Neale Hurston's stunning The Making of Butterflies. This African American folktale is retold by National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi and beautifully illustrated by Kah Yangni. This board book is perfect for introducing the youngest of readers to the beauty of Hurston's storytelling and will spark curiosity in children about how things in our world came to be.
Looking for fun activities to try at home?
Take a nature walk. How many butterflies can you see or observe on your walk? Count them. Compare and contrast the different colors. Tell stories about them. Where are they going? What are they doing? You might take a small notebook with you so that you can draw pictures of the butterflies you see.
You can build and create the life cycle of a butterfly (and act it out too for some gross motor learning). Here are some great ideas from Hudson River Park to get you started!
Ready to make some picture book connections?
As you may have guessed by now, I'm all about using beautiful, multicultural picture books to build connections to STEM and to the natural world. I'm going to share a few of the books we used for the Metamorphosis Project.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This is the book that started it all for me. I fell in love with the images and the cheeky little caterpillar. Use this to launch and expand your journey into this fascinating world.
Poetry in motion...some wonderful books that center butterflies in poetic text (and often with gorgeous illustrations) include: Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes; What's Your Favorite Bug? by Eric Carle and Friends; Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! by Carole Gerber and Eugene Yelchin; and Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and Eric Beddows.
Just the facts...these books all contain lovely photographs, easy to follow text, and basic vocabulary and information about the life cycle of the butterfly. Check out DK's See How They Grow: Butterfly by Mary Ling and Kim Taylor; Usborne Beginner's Caterpillars and Butterflies by Stephanie Turnbull, Rosanne Guille, and Uwe Mayer; Scholastic's Rookie Read-About Science It's a Good Thing There Are Butterflies by Lisa M. Herrington; and A Butterfly's Life by Ellen Lawrence.
A deeper dive into the role of butterflies as pollinators, butterfly vision and how it affects pollination, and butterfly habitats and pollinator gardens. Check out A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart and Higgins Bond; Naidra's Pollinator Sight by Gregory A. Kanhai and Marina Kryvets; In the Garden by Emma Giuliani; and Sip, Pick, and Pack: How Pollinators Help Plants Make Seeds by Polly W. Cheney and Kim Overton.
Finally, monarch butterflies have been in the news a lot recently due to the threats posed to them by climate change. Like most butterflies, monarchs are highly sensitive to weather and climate: They depend on environmental cues (temperature in particular) to trigger reproduction, migration, and hibernation. Their habitats and the milkweed they rely on for survival are also threatened by a changing climate. There are steps you can take at home to help the monarchs and Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots program has a number of ideas for young naturalists. Some books that give you an up close look at the monarchs and their challenges include: The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery by Rebecca A. Hirsch; Traveling Butterflies by Susumu Shingu; and Cynthia Rylant's The Journey: Stories of Migration.
This is not an extensive list. There are many beautiful and rich books exploring many aspects of caterpillars, butterflies, and the insect world. I encourage you to visit your local library or favorite bookseller to check out the books I've listed for your own journey and insect investigations. But don't stop there! Share some of your favorite butterfly books and activities in the comments below. And enjoy the adventure!
Note: Some of the book links will take you to bookshop.org. I am a Bookshop.org affiliate and may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through these direct links. I list them here as a service for you in the hopes that you will visit your local library and support your independent book sellers (one of the reasons I love Bookshop).