Science project

Butterflies & Elephants

Research Questions:

  • How do butterflies consume food? 
  • Where are butterflies’ mouths located?

Butterflies primarily feed on nectar, but some also derive nourishment from tree sap, rotting fruit and pollen. The sugar in nectars and these other sources is vital to their reproduction. Butterflies use their antennae to sense the scent of nectars and locate food, then they uncoil their proboscis and explore.

This project provides an opportunity for students to observe butterflies uncoiling the proboscis, exploring the food source and sucking up small amounts of banana flesh that seem to “disappear”.


  • Small glass aquarium
  • Screen or cotton cloth the size of the aquarium top
  • Windowpane magnifying film (most hardware stores stock it)
  • Butterflies (science supply stores sell live insects)
  • Modeling clay
  • Wooden dowel
  • Ripe banana
  • A small amount of granulated sugar
  • Logbook

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Place a large chunk of the modeling clay inside the small aquarium near a glass wall.
  2. Push the wooden dowel into the clay so that it stands straight.
  3. Mold a small cup from the remaining clay and stick it to the top of the dowel.
  4. Place a piece of the ripe banana in the cup and sprinkle it with a small amount of sugar. 
  5. Add a ½ teaspoon of water to the cup.
  6. Put the magnifying film on the glass nearest the cup.
  7. Release the butterflies into the aquarium and cover the top with a screen or cloth.
  8. Look through the magnifying material and stay still. Wait for the butterflies to calmly explore the environment.
  9. After a few minutes, one or more of the butterflies will find the banana and land on the edge of the cup. After another few moments, the butterfly will uncoil the proboscis and poke around at the food. Pay close attention to the surface beneath the proboscis as the butterfly sucks the food in and the flesh goes away.

To visually represent this project on a larger scale, consider drawing the observations or capturing digital photos to enlarge.

Terms: Nectar; Proboscis


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