Monarch Butterfly Migration

by littleBits

Published on April 23, 2014

The seasons are changing and soon the Monarch butterflies will begin flying south to warmer climates. Like birds, these unique butterflies migrate twice a year and journey over 2,000 miles between the United States and Mexico. In honor of this amazing species, littleBits brings your butterfly and geography lessons to life across a STEAM continuum by combining science, electronics, engineering, art, and geography. Encourage your students to think like entomologists and get tracking!

Overall project: 5 E’s

Before embarking on this integrated unit, we suggest students begin with a hands-on, open-ended exploration of littleBits. 

Engage: Incorporate your Monarch Butterfly content, including Monarch Butterfly biology and migratory patterns, the four seasons and geography. 

Explore: Merge littleBits with materials to create representations of Monarch Butterflies

Explain: How do scientists track Monarchs? What drives the butterflies to migrate? What pathways do the Monarch Butterflies travel through North America? How does light influence butterfly biology: seasonality, wing pattern and color, diurnal activity?

Elaborate: What are the life stages of the Monarch Butterfly? What senses do the butterflies use to migrate? What are the butterfly's prey and predators? What can tracking and mapping tell us about the location and health of Monarch Butterfly populations?

Evaluate: Students should be able to explain key concepts and information acquired in the lesson.

Resources for Educators:

Monarch Watch/Tagging: 

Incredible Journey of the Butterfly Video: 

Credits: littleBits Education

How To Make It


Part A: Creating Your Butterfly


This project creates four butterflies. Students can collaborate in workgroups. Begin by building the circuit with 3 Bits modules : power + wire + light module (bright LED, bargraph, long LED, etc.) Tip: add a fourth Bit Pulse Module to make a butterfly blink as it flies.  


Print out four butterfly templates (‘screen.jpg’) on clear Overhead Projector film.


Encourage students to research and study the markings of a Monarch Butterfly. Ideas for making your butterfly unique: -Draw a butterfly with permanent marker. -Draw an outline of a butterfly and color the outside with black permanent marker. -Draw an outline of a butterfly on a 4inch x 4inch construction paper card and cut it out. For a mirror image, fold the paper in half. Glue the outline to the film and color the butterfly with markers. -Fold colored tissue paper in half and tear it into a shape of a butterfly. Fold it a couple more times and make random cuts to make patterns on the wings. Unfold it and glue on the screen with paperclips to represent antennas.


Cut the ‘screen.jpg’ out and fold along the lines.


Print ‘lightbox.jpg’ on computer paper, glue it on construction paper and cut outside the edge of the lightbox.


Glue the lightbox flap to the opposite edge to close the box.


Put the LED Bit in the center of the lightbox you just made. Tape it tightly to the lightbox.


Place the overhead film with your butterfly over the large lightbox opening. Tape it down to the outside of the lightbox.


Turn the power on and test that the lightbox is working properly. (Tip: Dim the overhead lights if it’s hard to see the LED lights)


Part B: Creating a Butterfly Migration Stage


Now it’s time to make a big map of North America. If an overhead projector is available, you can project a map onto the paper and trace the outline of the US and Mexico with marker. If a projector is not available, refer to a map and draw by hand.


Attach the wooden dowels with masking tape to the top and bottom of the map so the paper stays taut.


Turn your butterfly circuit on, dim the lights and position the butterflies behind and against the back of the paper map. The outline of the butterfly should shine through the map. Now you are ready to demonstrate the migratory pathways.


Part C: Creating a Butterfly Migration Map


To make the migration route map with light wire, you need a blank canvas. Check out http://www.monarchwatch.org/tagmig/fallmap.htm as a guide. This project is suitable for a group of four students.


Draw an outline of North America on the canvas.


Mark the starting points and ending points for the flight pathways based on the migratory map. Trace the line between the two points with pencil.


Teachers should supervise poking a small hole at the starting point using a pen. Thread the light wire from the back to the front of the canvas, making sure that the circuit and battery are on the back of the canvas.


Teachers should supervise making a hole at the corresponding ending point and pull the light wire through it.


Continue this process until all pathways are threaded with light wire. You may need several light wires according to the size of the map. We used 3 light wire for this map (24inch x 18inch).


Part D: Activities for this Lesson


1. Design your Butterfly and littleBits circuit.
 See project instructions above.


2. Tagging
 Purpose: Understand how biologists identify and track butterflies. Activity: After the butterflies are created, each group presents their butterfly and the class records key features that make that insect unique (color, lights, patterns, size, materials etc.). Students can make their own identification tags to put on the side of their lightboxes, see http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/jr/TagRecoveryStories_TG.html for images and lesson ideas.
littleBits Prompts: How do the Bits you used help identify your butterflies? What happens when you add the pulse Bit to your butterfly circuit?


3. Enacting the Migratory Routes
 Purpose: Students should understand how and where the butterflies migrate
Activity: Enact the fall and spring migration on the map.
Roles: Assign 2-4 students to work together to create the large map. Have two students hold the wooden dowels and select a representative from each butterfly group to bring their identified insect up to the map. Each butterfly group traces a migratory pathway.

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