For Children: All About Butterflies!

Learn all about butterflies and how they fly, where they come from, where they live, what they eat and how they used to be caterpillars!

Butterflies are very interesting insects! They live in all parts of the world and there are thousands of kinds. Some are less than a half-inch long, while others have a wing span of eight to 10 inches!

The wings of butterflies come in many colors and patterns. Some wings are solid bright colors, like blue, yellow, orange or red. Many butterflies have intricate patterns on their wings. The designs are pretty, but their purpose is to fool birds! They may have spots on their wings that look like animal eyes. That helps to scare away birds so they don't eat the butterflies! Others have wing patterns that look like leaves, so they blend in with bushes and trees, and the birds can't see them.


Butterflies find a mate by flying in spiraling circles around each other. Male (boy) butterflies find females (girls) by how their wings reflect light and color. People cannot see the difference, but butterflies can!

The lady butterflies sometimes drop their eggs as they fly, but usually they lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. They choose leaves they know their babies will like to eat. To find the right kind of leaves, they taste them with sensors on their feet!

When the eggs hatch, there aren't baby butterflies, but tiny caterpillars! The caterpillars eat lots of leaves and plants and grow bigger and bigger. Then, their skin starts to harden around them, forming a "chrysalis." Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillars body changes quickly.

In about four weeks, the chrysalis breaks open and there is a butterfly! It is wet and its wings are all wrinkled. The butterfly stretches out its wings and then stays very still for a few hours. That allows the wings to harden, and then the butterfly can fly!

Butterflies fly very well, and can change directions easily. They can land quickly. Their wings are made of many little scales.


During the day, butterflies fly around looking for food to eat. They use their "proboscis" to suck the nectar from flowers. It is a long tube that looks like a tongue. When they aren't eating, they roll up their proboscis. They also will eat tree sap and decaying fruits and animals.

Butterflies find their way with the use of their antennae, which have tiny knobs on the ends. They feel things with the knobs.


Some butterflies live for more than a year and others live for just a few weeks. Most live their entire life in one small area, but there are several kinds that migrate. In winter, they fly south to warmer weather. They may fly hundreds or even thousands of miles. When spring comes, they fly back to their home!

Some kinds that migrate are the well-known milkweed or monarch butterfly, the painted lady butterfly and the common cabbage butterfly.


The next time you see a caterpillar think about this:

That fuzzy caterpillar will someday be a beautiful butterfly!

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