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A Teacher's Guide

Butterflies of North America

For Discussion

  1. What butterflies are common in your community, state, and region? Which of them are familiar to you?

  2. What are the threats to butterflies and their habitats in your area? How might those threats be removed or lessened? What is the importance of protecting butterfly species and their habitats?

  3. What characteristics are most helpful in identifying butterflies and distinguishing among the various species? How might we arrange those characteristics in an order that would be most useful for identification purposes?

  4. How can you use the Butterflies of North America range maps to determine which butterflies are most likely to be observed in your community, state, and region?

  5. Review the North American Butterfly Association's list of suggested names for a group of butterflies (www.naba.org). Discuss, add class suggestions to the list, and vote for favorites. (And, of course, submit any new suggestions to NABA.)


  1. Maintain, over a specific time period, a daily log or field notebook of butterfly species, numbers of individual butterflies, and frequency of sightings in your backyard. A useful checklist of butterflies for your state is available at www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/bflyusa.htm.

  2. Select a threatened or endangered North American butterfly. (Lists are available from county or state agencies and at http://endangered.fws.gov/.) Prepare a report on the threats to the species, its present status, and actions being taken to protect it.

  3. Write a poem, story, or essay about your favorite butterfly.

  4. Look through Butterflies of America to find a butterfly in your state or region that you would like to see in the wild. On the basis of the range maps, text, and illustrations, where would you go to see that butterfly, what habitat would you search, and what would you expect the butterfly to be doing when you found it? How would you recognize it and distinguish it from other butterfly species?

  5. Assign to student teams — or have them select — different states. Each team should research some of the principal butterfly species of that team's state, as well as their habitats, food, and behavior. (Go to www.butterflies.com/nabutterflies.htm for state lists.) Each team should then create a collage or map that includes pictures of the butterflies and their habitats.


  1. Using Butterflies of North America as a guide, make a chart of the butterfly species most common to your area or region and post it in a convenient location. Check off each species observed, note the date(s) and time(s) of day, briefly describe the weather, and initial. Next to the chart, post a brief description and a picture of each species observed.

  2. Invite an experienced butterfly observer to speak to the class about butterflies and their place in the ecosystem.

  3. Obtain or make a map of the various habitats (including streets and backyards) in your community or area. Identify the butterflies observed within each habitat and label the map accordingly. The map may then be displayed as an ongoing project.

  4. Select one group of butterflies and, using the illustrations and text in the guide, compare the color patterns on the upper and lower sides of the wings of each species. How many of the species have the same upper- and lower-wing patterns? Can you think of reasons why different species within the group would show different colors or patterns on the upper side of the wings (visible when the wings are spread) and on the under side (visible when the wings are folded above the butterfly's back)?

  5. Contact the Xerces Society and the Nature Conservancy (addresses are given on page 17 of Butterflies of North America) concerning efforts to preserve butterfly habitats and diversity. The Web sites are, respectively, www.xerces.org/ and http://nature.org/.

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