When we see small, colorful wings flapping past us, we’d like to think it’s a butterfly. “Moth” just doesn’t sound as nice, maybe because moths eat our wool clothes. But how different are butterflies from moths? Butterflies have thin antennae with a club-like ball on the end, while moth antennae are straight and feathery. Butterflies have thinner, smoother bodies, while moths’ bodies are chubby and hairy. Their eyes are different, too: moths are awake at night (“nocturnal”), so they have compound eyes that catch light from many angles to help see in the dark. It’s true that most butterflies are colorful, while moths need boring colors to match their surroundings while asleep during the day. But a few very poisonous moths are bright and colorful. Luckily you’ll be poisoned only if you eat them, so just don’t do that!
Wee ones: Some butterflies have bright orange on their wings. Can you find 2 orange things in your room?
Little kids: If your bug feeder brings in 3 butterflies during the day and 7 moths at night, how many bugs do you feed in total? Bonus: If a butterfly has 4 cool blue spots on each forewing and 2 blue spots on each smaller hindwing, how many spots does it have?
Big kids: Moths rest with their wings flat and open, while butterflies close them pointing up. If in a field of 50 bugs you see 14 bugs with open wings and the rest closed, how many butterflies are there? Bonus: Butterflies lay about 100 eggs at a time! If every one of those butterflies in the field laid eggs, how many eggs would there be?
Wee ones: Items might include socks, shirts, toys, or crayons.
Little kids: 10 bugs. Bonus: 12 blue spots, since it has 6 (4+2) on the left, and 6 on the right.
Big kids: 36 butterflies. Bonus: 3,600 eggs.
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.