Monarch Watch This Week

Monarch butterflies are migrating south for winter. If you’re in Texas, go on a walk and watch for monarchs as they fly south. To see if monarchs might be flying near you, check out this map of recent monarch sightings.

Two-way migration

image courtesy of the US Forest Service

Like birds, monarch butterflies migrate south for winter, then return north in the spring. Monarchs are the only butterflies to make a two-way migration like this.

Daytime travel

Monarchs travel only by day. At night, they roost together at congregation sites. The monarchs stay close together to keep warm.

Light as a feather, heavy as as 2-year-old

An individual monarch weighs less than a paperclip, but tens of thousands can cluster together in a single tree. The combined weight is so heavy that branches sometimes break.

Other resources

Live butterfly garden: experience the butterfly life cycle at home or in a classroom.
Lesson Plans. Monarch Lab has some free monarch butterfly lesson plans customized for grades K-2, 3-6, and middle/high school.
Butterfly life cycle model: set of detailed life cycle figures.
Questions about monarchs. Dr. Oberhauser answers a plethora of fascinating questions about monarchs.

Complete and Incomplete Metamorphosis in Insects

Praying Mantid Eggcase

Praying Mantid egg case

Metamorphosis describes the changes that the majority of insects go through during their life cycle. The two most dominant cycles are Complete and Incomplete.

Complete Metamorphosis is also called Holometabolous Development.

Incomplete Metamorphosis is also called Partial Metamorphosis or Hemimetabolous Development.

What is the difference between complete and incomplete metamorphosis in insects?

The number of life cycle stages insects go through during their transformation from egg to adult differs. Complete metamorphosis has 4 life cycle stages. Incomplete metamorphosis has 3 life cycle stages.

Complete Metamorphosis

The majority of insects go through complete metamorphosis. There are four distinct life cycle stages:

  • egg
  • larva
  • pupa
  • adult

The larva can be worm-like, although you can still see the six legs. The larvae for moths and butterflies are called caterpillars. Maggots are the larval stage of flies. The larvae eat constantly and grow rapidly.

A hard, protective case forms around the larva: this is the pupa stage. The pupa stage for a butterfly is called a chrysallis. The pupa stage for a moth is called a cocoon.

Examples of Complete Metamorphosis

Some insects that go through complete metamorphosis are:

Incomplete Metamorphosis

Incomplete metamorphosis only has three life cycle stages:

  • egg
  • nymph
  • adult

The nymph looks like a smaller version of the adult, but is wingless. Instead of going into a cocoon, the nymph grows into an adult by shedding its outer layer or exoskeleton. Once wings develop, the nymph has become an adult and will no longer shed its outer shell.

Examples of Incomplete Metamorphosis

Examples of insects that go through incomplete metamorphosis are

Where you can find out more

If you need more explanation, leave a comment below or try one of these websites:

What Is The Red Liquid That Secretes from a Butterfly Chrysalus?

When an adult butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it secretes a red liquid that often drips down to the bottom of the habitat. This is not blood. It is actually a liquid known as meconium that is the natural secretions created while in the chrysalis. This is natural and you should explain this to children during a butterfly life cycle project so that they do not think the butterfly is injured or that something is wrong with the experiment.

Caring for Butterflies in Life Cyle Projects

When butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, they are considered adult butterflies. Care and feeding of adult butterflies is important to successfully complete a butterfly life cycle experiment. Adult butterflies do not have jaws that allow them to chew plant material as they did when they were caterpillars. Instead, they have a long, straw-like tongue called a proboscis through which they can consume liquid material. Butterflies are an example of an insect that goes through complete metamorphosis.

The caterpillars diet normally consists of one type of plant, depending on the species. The most popular butterfly used in classroom studies is the Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. They are available through many different sources and they are a cost effective option. In nature, the larva feed on the mallow plant. In classroom studies, a prepared diet is the best option. The caterpillars each constantly during this time period. The larval stage lasts approximately 4 weeks. The habitat should not be too large as this will make it difficult for the caterpillars to find the food source. If this happens, the larva could starve. One unusual characteristic of the caterpillar is that it has 8 pairs of legs to assist in climbing. After the last molt, only the front 3 pairs will remain.

After the 3-4 weeks spent as a caterpillar, the larva will attach itself upside down and form the crysalis. When the chrysalis has hardened, they should be transferred to a larger container, normally a net type habitat. The filter paper that the larva attaches to can be attached to the top of the net using a paper clip. In 7-10 days, the adult butterfly will emerge. A few hours will pass before the adult is ready to fly.

When your butterflies emerge from their chrysalis, you should place a shallow container of sugar water into the bottom of their habitat or butterfly net. They will consume this during the week to 10 days you have them in the habitat prior to release.

Though butterflies can adapt to a fairly wide range of temperatures, it is best to keep their habitat at room temperature and away from direct sunlight through windows. The time periods listed above can vary depending on the temperature, amount of food and the concentration of larva.

Life Cycle of a Butterfly

Emerging monarchThe butterflies’ cycle of life is very different from the rest of nature. The butterfly’s lifecycle has four stages; which include Egg, Larva (caterpillar), Pupa (cocoon), and Adult. Butterflies are important to nature because they are an agent of pollination. This means they pollinate flowers, which happens when pollen grains are transferred from the male to the female part of the flower.


Butterfly eggs consist of a hard outer shell; the outer shell has wax on the inside to prevent it from getting too dry. These eggs are usually affixed to a plant leaf with glue that quickly hardens. The egg stage lasts for a few weeks.


During the larva stage the caterpillar consumes plant leaves, finding and consuming the plant leaves is how the caterpillar spends most of its time. Many caterpillars have markings on their rear end that look like eyes. This along with ability to produce chemicals that smell or are toxic offers defense from birds and other predators.


This is the stage in which the caterpillar searches for a desirable location in which to turn itself from larva into a pupa (cocoon). The caterpillar will attach itself to a branch or limb and molt for the last time. Metamorphosis takes place and a butterfly emerges at the end of this cycle.

Adult Butterfly

Adult Butterflies are not able to fly until their wings gain blood circulation and completely unfold; this usually takes 1-3 hours depending on the type of butterfly. Without a net or other type of protection they are very vulnerable while waiting for their wings to function. The adult is known as the imago, as an adult the butterfly gains the ability to reproduce. The adult butterfly has 4 wings and 6 legs.

Learning Activity for Children

Butterflies are fascinating for children because of their beauty and the simple fact that they fly. Rarely can a book teach a child the stages of a butterfly’s life cycle better than simply experiencing it. Raising butterflies through their life cycle is a fun educational activity for children. To successfully raise butterflies through their life cycle, you will need:

  • Painted Lady Caterpillars with food.
  • Vials and lids
  • And a two foot hanging butterfly net

Where you can get Butterfly Supplies

Heath Scientific provides these supplies along with complete instructions in a Live Butterfly Classroom Kit . Though designed for the classroom, it is a great activity for parents and children of all ages.
Other butterfly supplies are: