How Does Basking Warm a Butterfly?
Intro | Experiment | Article | Journal

As a monarch basks in the sun, its wings and thorax absorb solar energy. In this experiment, students test different colors to see how light, medium, and dark hues absorb the sun's energy.

1. Observe and Wonder

Look at the photo for clues about basking:  


  • How do you know the monarchs in this photo are basking in the sun?
  • Why do you think their wings are open and facing the same way?
  • How might the colors of the wings affect basking?
Basking monarch butterflies
Image Elizabeth Howard
Monarchs Basking

2. Predict and Hypothesize
Hold up an array of colored paper and ask: If we place an ice cube on each color and set the paper in the sun, what will happen and why? Have students make predictions and pose possible explanations.

3. Experiment
Divide the class into groups. Have each group choose 3 colors for testing. Have them arrange their papers side-by-side on a flat surface in a sunny area, either in the classroom or outdoors. Provide each group with ice cubes and a watch with a second hand. Give instructions:

  • Put an ice cube in the center of each sheet.
  • Use your science notebook to draw and describe what you observe. (Encourage students to use the watch to track and note elapsed time between each sketch.)
  • Record how long it takes for each cube to melt completely.

4. Share and Summarize
Provide time for each group to present their results to the class. Model and practice how to write discovery statements:

  • The ice cubes melted faster on dark colors.
  • It took about ____ minutes for the cube to melt on the black paper.
  • The ice cube on the _______ paper completely melted in ______ minutes.
  • The difference between melting times was ______ minutes.

After summarizing what happened, read the article to explore the how and why of basking.