Monday, October 25, 2010

Where DO Butterflies Sleep?

Where DO butterflies sleep? They aren’t around at night, they must go somewhere. I am not an expert on butterflies but I have learned that butterflies do not actually ‘sleep’. Butterflies are cold blooded, so they need the sun’s warmth to keep their activity levels up. When it is dark or cloudy they become inactive, close their wings and rest. Most will find a safe place like the underside of a leaf, in a tree, or a rock crevice.

Butterflies will also warm themselves on rocks or hanging out on bushes during the day. Someone once told me that some butterflies’ wings like the Gulf Fritillary have silvery, shiny undersides that act like solar panels capturing the sun’s warmth.

Safety in numbers:
According to, most butterflies sleep alone, but there are also species that sleep in groups. Poisonous butterflies have a particular smell that protects them better when they sleep together.
One species from Costa Rica whose scientific name is Marpesia berania sleeps in groups on leaves. If one butterfly of the group is disturbed, it opens its wings and touches its neighbors. Being touched, they open their wings as well and so the whole group is informed about the danger and can escape together.


Millions of Monarchs rest together on trees as they over winter in Central Mexico. It’s a pretty cool sight. I have only seen in pictures.

We went to the Monarch Festival this Saturday at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. In Tallahassee, the monarchs usually arrive with the first cold front. These incredible butterflies are one of the longest lived butterfly species. They can live up to nine months, plenty of time to make the fall migration to Mexico and over winter. In the spring their offspring make the journey back up north.

Since the festival is a predetermined weekend each year, instead of bushes covered in butterflies there were only a few here and there. But that didn’t stop us from learning and having fun!

We met some new friends, saw some old, cruised with the top down through the reserve (Lottie loved it!), saw butterflies get tagged, got tagged ourselves, made some crafts and of course ate some good’ol Bradley’s Sausage.

Hey, Teachers. 
Here is a compilation of elementary/secondary activities about butterflies. October is a great month to use butterflies as learning content.

Science – The life cycle of the butterfly
Glorious Butterfly elementary lesson plans

Math –  Rate of pollination per type of flower.
Simply, have the students watch a particular plant and within a set amount of time count the pollinators and perhaps keep track of the different types of pollinators. Do this for several different plants in your butterfly garden or school yard.

This pollination field activity from Florida DEP (I used to work in the  FDEP Office of Environmental Education and helped create these, so you will be seeing a lot of links to their labs) is for Middle School students but could be tweaked for elementary students.

Geography - Mapping migration patterns.
Give the children a map of the North America without the migration patterns on it and have them mark specific known resting or ‘fly through’ spots for fall migration in one color then for spring in another color. Draw the migration lines with arrows. See migration route.

Social Science - Talk about protecting Trees for Monarchs.
Engage the students with questions -- Why do the butterflies need these trees? Why do the trees need to be protected? Learn about the Mexico, La Cruz Habitat Protection Project.

Reading - There are so many wonderful, biologically correct butterfly books available. Monarch Butterfly of Aster Way (A Smithsonian's Backyard book) is one of my favorites. Ours came with a butterfly puppet.  

Writing - Journal migration patterns
There is a journal prompt at the end of the Pollination Lab from DEP. Here is another one for you; it can be tweaked to any grade level.
Monarchs travel a great distance to reach their wintering location. Think about the adventures and obstacles the butterfly overcomes during the trip.  Before you begin writing, imagine you are a monarch making the voyage. Describe the trip in journal form. Don’t forget to include the date of each entry, flight path from location to location, the food you eat, predators you elude, and friends you might meet.

Art - Who doesn’t like to make butterflies out of pipe cleaners and tissue paper?!!!
Make finger puppets out of felt, finger paint, make an anatomically correct monarch (or your favorite, mine is the Black Swallowtail) out of construction paper, or make cardboard wearable wings if you want. I know you are creative, so go crazy on this one.

Here are some printable butterfly coloring pages.

Happy butterflying!


  1. Kristy, you are amazing! Lottie is so blessed to have such an inquisitive and creative mother.
    LeAnn Lett

  2. Kristy your so smart I just want to have your brain I love you Kristy