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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies

found in: arts; science; preK-2; 3-5; 6-8; 9-12

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman (2018). (160 pp) (Grades 5-7)

Maria Merian (1647-1717) was a German naturalist and illustrator noted for her studies of insects. She collected insects and raised silk worms as a teen and published her first book when she was 28. She documented the metamorphosis and plant hosts of 186 European insect species and illustrated insects in their natural habitats. In 1699, she and a daughter voyaged to South America to study tropical insects. She published a book in 1705 on the insects of Suriname. Though she had no formal training, Merian is, today, considered one of the most significant entomologists.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies is told in twelve chapters that pattern the lifecycle of butterflies, from egg to egg. The book is filled with maps, photographs of plants and butterflies, as well as many examples of Merian’s engravings and paintings. A concluding chapter titled “The Woman in Her World” addresses the reluctance of a male dominated and professionally trained academic audience to accept the work of a self-taught amateur. In addition, the book has a timeline, bibliography, and suggests further reading on Maria Merian for younger and older readers.

Students and teachers of science and art will find the following resources useful in a study of insects, metamorphosis, and scientific illustration.

Lesson Plans:

Amazing Butterflies: A Guide for Teachers and Students  ( PDF, 2.0 MB, 63 pgs.) (K-6) This cross curricular guide provides 12 lessons and 4 activities.

Illustrating Nature  ( PDF, 604 KB, 3 pgs.) Students (6-8) study and report their observations on an illustration by Maria Merian. Afterward, they collect insects, plants, or leaves and draw them. See the slide show below.

Insect Anatomy and the Scientist as Illustrator  three versions for grades K-5, 6-8, 9-12 in which students observe, research, and draw. Includes an image bank, timeline, glossary, print and web resources, and standards charts all in PDF format.


The Girl Who Drew Butterflies Teaching Guide  includes pre- and post-reading activities, discussion questions, and related activities aligned with standards for grades 3-5.

Slide Show This J. Paul Getty Museum slideshow features some of Merian’s work and includes an audio docent.

Classroom Resources Related to Maria Merian  links to full-color, digitized copies of Merian’s The Insects of Surinam and The Caterpillar Book.

Art & Science: A Curriculum for K–12 Teachers

Coloring Pages  four of Merian’s illustrations from South America.

Online Jigsaw Puzzles  Six of Merian’s illustrations that can be made into enlargeable online puzzles of 12 to 108 pieces.

Further Reading:

Middle Grades

Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer By Sarah B. Pomeroy and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby (grades 3-7)

For a preview, click here

Younger Students:

The Bug Girl: Maria Merian's Scientific Vision by Marsh, Sarah Glenn, author. (1-3)

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science  (5-6)



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