Butterfly Structure and Function

In this unit, students continue to learn about living things, focusing on animals. They begin by observing the metamorphosis of a butterfly and then model the parts of a butterfly that help it survive in its environment. This page highlights each component of lesson two in which students explore a butterfly’s body structure and function.

Science Background for Teachers:

This background information provides teachers with more in-depth information of the phenomena being studied in this unit.

Butterflies and moths are kinds of insects. Like all insects, they have three body segments, six legs, and an exoskeleton.

The three body segments are the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. The head is the front segment of an insect. It holds an insect’s antennae, eyes, and mouthparts, including the proboscis.

The middle segment of all insects is called the thorax. The thorax holds the insect’s six legs and its wings. Some insects have one pair of wings, while other insects have two pairs. Butterflies and moths can hear sounds with their wings. The back segment is the abdomen, and it is where the insect’s stomach is.

All insects also have an exoskeleton, which is a hard covering that covers their entire body like skin, and protects and supports them.

Butterflies and moths are both pollinators. As they stand on flowers to eat, pollen gets on their legs and body. When they fly to another flower, pollen drops off, making new seeds. Butterflies aren’t as good of pollinators as bees or moths are because pollen doesn’t stick as well to them. Moths are better pollinators because they collect pollen with their mouth-parts.

Supports Grade 2

Science Lesson: Exploring a Butterfly’s Structure and Function

In the previous lesson, students observe how butterflies change as they grow. In this lesson, they create a model of an adult butterfly, exploring the relationship between a butterfly’s different body parts and its ability to get what it needs from the environment to survive.  

Science Big Ideas

  • Because they are animals, butterflies have body parts to help them survive in their environment.

Sample Unit CTA-2
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Science Essential Questions

  • What food do butterflies eat?
  • What body part helps butterflies eat nectar?
  • How does nectar help butterflies survive?
  • How do butterflies find food?
  • Where are the antennae, eyes, and proboscis located on butterflies?
  • What other body part helps butterflies eat once they find food?  
  • Where does the food go in a butterfly’s body once it eats?

Common Science Misconceptions

Misconception: Animals don’t need plants to survive.
Fact: Animals cannot live without plants. Plants give animals food and shelter.
Misconception: Plants don’t need animals to survive.
Fact: Plants and animals depend on each other. One reason that many plants need animals is for pollination.

Science Vocabulary

Abdomen: the back segment of an insect where the stomach is

Antennae:  body parts of insects that are used to smell, touch, and taste things

Larva: an insect’s young, worm-like form; a caterpillar for butterflies and moths

Pupa: the inactive stage of an insect when it changes; does not eat

Head: the front segment of an insect where the antennae, mouthparts, and eyes are found

Life cycle:  the stages an organism passes through on its way from birth to death

Metamorphosis: when a living thing completely changes its form from one stage to the next in its life cycle

Thorax : the middle segment of an insect where the legs and wings are found

Lexile(R) Certified Non-Fiction Science Reading (Excerpt)

Smelling and Tasting

Butterflies smell, taste, and touch things around them, just like people do. But the way they smell, taste, and touch is different.

Butterflies don’t have noses or mouths like people. They use body parts called antennae ontheir heads to smell, taste, and touch. They also use their legs.

Butterflies are a kind of animal called an insect. All insects have three body segments. All insects have six legs. The head is the front segment of an insect.

The middle segment is the thorax. The thorax holds the insect’s six legs. It also holds its wings. Butterflies use their wings to fly from place to place. 

The back segment is the abdomen. An insect’s stomach is here. Food goes to the stomach.

Sipping Nectar

Butterflies have body parts to help them survive. They have to eat other living things for food because they are animals. Food gives them energy. They also need water to survive.

Many butterflies drink nectar from flowers. The nectar gives them food and water. They have a straw-like tube to suck in nectar. The tube is a proboscis. It is long and curled. It lets butterflies reach deep into plants to get nectar.



Hands-on Science Activity

In this lesson, students create model butterflies to examine how their external structures help them survive in their environment. Students use their models to construct a verbal explanation about how each body part they modeled has a specific function that helps the butterfly survive, including finding food and shelter and avoiding predators.

Science Assessments

KnowAtom incorporates formative and summative assessments designed to make students thinking visible for deeper student-centered learning.

  • Vocabulary Check
  • Lab Checkpoints
  • Concept Check Assessment 
  • Concept Map Assessment 
  • And More...


Science Standards

See How KnowAtom Aligns to NGSS Science Standards

Discover hands-on screens-off core science curriculum for student centered K-8 classrooms. KnowAtom supports classrooms with all hands-on materials, curriculum, and professional development to support mastery of the standards.

Download the Alignment to NGSS

Standards citation: NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Neither WestEd nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.