With Butterfly Identification
Look, Measure, Draw, Describe
Here's a fun exercise to develop observation skills. First students observe
two butterfly species carefully and draw them to scale. (The
process of drawing requires careful observation and focus on details!)
Next students describe the butterflies in writing and then read thorough
descriptions that scientists wrote.
Photo Jim Gilbert
Photo Peter J. Bryant
Carefully compare the photos of the Monarch and Painted
Lady above. The characteristics you see at first glance are called "field
marks." As you prepare to draw, notice the distinguishing field marks
for each species.
Size is an important field mark. You can tell the size
in these photos, so here are the wing span measurements for each species.
Lady: 2 - 2 7/8 inches (5.1 - 7.3 cm).
Monarch: 3 3/8 - 4 7/8
inches (8.6 - 12.4 cm).
Now pull out your sketch pad and draw each butterfly. Drawing
forces us to look very closely! Use this butterfly
template if you need help getting started. Make your drawings to scale.
Note: It's the process of drawing that's important.
Encourage students not to be concerned with perfection. It doesn't matter
how the butterfly looks; the process of drawing requires careful observation
and focus on details.
Next, write a description that compares and contrasts the
two species. Include field marks that you think are most helpful.
edge of wing
(colors and patterns--spots, stripes, etc.)
(colors and patterns)
website Butterflies and
Moths of North America is an excellent resource for butterfly information.
There, you can compare your verbal description of each butterfly to the
descriptions written by experts:
Now that you've sharpened your observation skills, here
are other butterfly species that are sometimes confused with monarchs.
Take a close look — and sketch a few—
to become familiar with their similarities and differences:
further writing practice, students can write desriptions of butterflies
and then challenge classmates to match descriptions with photos.
- In what
ways do monarchs and painted ladies look alike?
- In what
ways are they different?
did you notice while drawing each butterfly that you hadn't noticed
on your experience, describe how drawing helps you observe more closely.
does specific vocabulary help with observation?
- Is it
possible for a monarch to be smaller than a painted lady? What's the
closest they can be in size?
Science Education Standards
Scientists use different kinds of investigations depending on the questions
they are trying to answer. Types of investigations include describing
objects, events, and organisms. (K-4)
kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations.
Some involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events.