Butterfly Bonanza – Lessons in Butterfly Identification

We joined a group of local naturalists for a Butterfly Bonanza (butterfly identification outing) recently and had the most amazing time.  We spotted 10 different Lepidopteran species – 6 that were entirely new to the kids and I.  We also learned how to identify a few important host plants – Milkweed (are you surprised I didn’t actually know this one?) and California Buckeye.

butterfly bonanzaFunny thing though, I had a hard time rallying the troops before we headed out.  Child #2 wanted to stay in his jammies and play Minecraft all day.  Child #1, though less obstinate, wasn’t as eager as I would have suspected either. She was content to curl up with her book and read.

Once we were there, however, their attitudes changed and they were actively engaged.  It was such a delight for me to watch them use the butterfly nets and interact with the adults.  In the group of approximately 26, they were the only children.

We were given a list of species that had been spotted at the preserve two years ago. It included 21 species – a most of which were familiar to me (at least by name) – but several were not.  In the two hours that we were there, we spotted 10 distinct Lepidopteran species (one of which was a moth, likely a in the family Geometridae because it’s coloration was very cryptic and resembled the bark of a tree).  Here’s a list of those we were able to identify:

  • Pipevine Swallowtail (larvae, pupa, and adult)
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail
  • California Hairstreak
  • Acmon Blue
  • Variable Checkerspot
  • California Sister
  • Monarch (egg and adult)
  • Echo Blue
  • Checkered Skipper

Upon our return home, the kids were excited to share their discovery with their father.  Buddy eagerly shared, “I got to watch a Pipevine Swallowtail up close.  I learned that it uses its tentacles to check things out.  When I put my hand in front of it, it felt me with its  tentacles and then it moved another direction.  That was really cool.”  Sweetie exclaimed, “Butterfly identification isn’t as hard as I thought and it was really fun.”

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge at Handbook of Nature Study.

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About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

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