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  • This New Zealand-based citizen science project collects data about butterflies in our gardens, schools, parks and farms – any location in the country or on the outer islands. This annual event – offered during a weekend in February – only takes 15 minutes of observation time. The results contribute to Aotearoa 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 butterfly species from an App or pictures on a tally sheet and then send your results in.

    Rights: Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT)

    The Big Butterfly Count

    Participate in the annual Big Butterfly Count to help increase knowledge on the butterflies of Aotearoa New Zealand.

    Southern Blue (Zizina oxleyi) butterfly photo by Cathy Casey.

    Opportunities for discussions around critiquing evidence (How many butterflies have we seen? How do we know that we didn’t count one of them twice?) make for 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.

    Rights: Feathercollector, licensed through 123RF Ltd

    Honshu white admiral butterfly

    The Honshu white admiral butterfly was introduced to New Zealand in 2014 as a biocontrol control for Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica).

    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 Butterfly Count project

    The Moths and Butterflies of 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 Butterfly Count is to raise awareness of New Zealand’s native butterflies, their abundance and spread.

    Rights: Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT)

    Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT)

    Logo of the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT).

    This simplified count began in 2024 and gives an annual baseline to show trends in populations and how environmental change is affecting species. With the help of new technology and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, it is now much simpler.

    MBNZT has resources to support teachers doing the survey. The survey form features colour images of 25 species of native and introduced butterflies – and a few occasional visitors.

    The MBNZT website has tips for conducting the survey. They also run a number of other initiatives to encourage awareness of our moth and butterfly populations.

    How to record results

    If you have a smartphone, download the app – look for the purple ButterflyCount icon – to record your findings online.

    If you don't have a smartphone, download a PDF tally sheet from MBNZT's website to record your 15-minute butterfly count.

    Where to count? – you can carry out your count in a defined area such as a garden, park or paddock, while walking along, or standing on a fixed point and counting butterflies that fly past. It is recommended that you choose a time when it is sunny and warm, with no rain and when it is not too windy. The best time to see the most butterflies is usually early afternoon.

    The results can be recorded in the App or scanned and emailed to or mailed to MBNZT, PO Box 44.100, Pt Chevalier, Auckland 1246.

    Nature of science

    Using this OCS project is ideal when exploring the concepts of native, endemic and introduced species. The majority of New Zealand’s butterflies are endemic – found nowhere else. Species like the monarch and admirals are self-introduced, while some other species have been accidentally or intentionally introduced. Habitat and food plants for larvae play a key role in whether butterflies become established.

    Related content

    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.

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

    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.

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

    The red admiral butterfly won the 2024 Bug of the Year contest. This article looks at how we can help the butterflies of Aotearoa New Zealand.

    Citizen science

    Some of the people helping to fill the gaps in our butterfly knowledge are citizen scientist groups like the Moth and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust founded by Jacqui Knight.

    Participate in one of the citizen science projects below that have a focus on butterflies and moths:

    • Ahi Pepe MothNet – a Participatory Science Platform initiative that investigates the distribution and ecology of our native and introduced moth species.
    • The Pieris Project – an international project working on DNA profiling white butterflies to determine their ancestry and origin.

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

    See these helpful webinars: Getting started with citizen science and Online citizen science.

    Useful links

    Visit the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT) website.

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

      Published 30 April 2024 Referencing Hub articles
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