• Add to new collection

    This New Zealand-based citizen science project collects data about day-flying butterflies and moths in our gardens, schools, parks and farms – any location in the country or on the outer islands. This is done once annually during a particular window of time (10 November to 30 November 2019), and the results contribute to New Zealand’s knowledge and monitoring of Lepidoptera species and the health of the environment we live in.

    Participation in the project requires you to be able to identify types of butterflies and moths, with resources to support this. Opportunities for discussions around critiquing evidence (How many butterflies or moths have we seen? How do we know that we didn’t count one of them twice?) are fantastic learning.


    Reach: Regional, national

    Nature of science focus: Online citizen science (OCS) projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. What is important is to identify aspects of NoS that your students need to be better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.

    Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data, Interpret representations, Engage with science

    Science focus: ecology – species distribution, habitat and animal behaviour

    Some suggested science concepts:

    • Butterflies and moths are classified as part of the kingdom: Animalia; phylum: Arthropoda; class: Insecta.
    • Adaptations – Butterflies and moths can be identified by their external features.
    • Butterfly and moth species can be classified as being native, endemic or introduced.
    • Different butterflies and moths live in different habitats. These insects tend to live in areas in which their larval food plants grow.
    • Changes in habitat can affect the survival of living organisms in an area and the relationships between them.

    Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.

    Some examples of learning outcomes:

    Students can:

    • accurately gather and log data
    • identify butterflies and moths by their external features
    • discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the data collection method.

    About the Big Backyard Butterfly Count project

    The Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust (MBNZT) is a volunteer organisation that aims to conserve New Zealand’s biodiversity so that butterflies, moths and their habitats are enhanced and protected. The aim of the Big Backyard Butterfly Count is to raise awareness of New Zealand’s native butterflies, their abundance and spread.

    The count has been running since 2015 and gives an annual baseline to show trends in populations and how environmental change is affecting species.

    MBNZT has resources to support teachers throughout the survey. The survey form features colour images of 20 species of native and introduced butterflies and moths, identification features and regional information.

    The MBNZT website has tips for conducting the survey. It also has other citizen science projects including monarch butterfly tagging and butterfly gardening. The website has a forum, so it is possible to connect with Lepidoptera experts.

    Nature of science

    Using this OCS gives opportunities to discuss how New Zealand scientists might use the collective data from sightings to monitor species over time, including population numbers and distributions. Students can also consider the challenges for scientists in collecting large datasets themselves and appreciate how involving citizen scientists makes the scientists’ findings more valid.

    Related content

    Some of the people helping to fill the gaps in our butterfly knowledge are citizen scientist groups like the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust led by Jacqui Knight.

    Read about how scientists are gathering data about monarch butterflies in this Connected article Look out for Monarchs.

    Find out more about the white butterflies then try the activity White butterfly life cycle.

    The Hub has an extensive range of resources featuring butterflies – see this article that introduces our butterfly resources. This includes links to two unit plans, one for lower primary and one for upper primary. These were based on the experiences of a year 4 class as they took actions to protect butterflies in their school environment.

    The topic butterflies and moths has links to our articles, activities, media and professional development resources. Remember, you can use the filters to narrow your search results.

    Discover more about the Ahi Pepe MothNet Participatory Science Platform initiative and the upcoming OCS project.

    Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students.

    Useful links

    Visit the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust (MBNZT) website.

    Visit for extensive information about New Zealand’s resident and migrant butterfly species.

      Published 16 May 2019 Referencing Hub articles