Scroll To Top


Butterfly Life Cycle

Ever wonder where a butterfly comes from? If you're not familiar with their life cycle then you're in for an amazing story. There are 4 stages of growth in a butterfly. The stage most people are familiar with is the flitting butterfly we may see on a summer day. This is actually the last stage and the one that is radically different from the previous 3 stages.

Butterflies begin as most living things as an egg that is typically laid by a butterfly on a leaf that a newly hatched butterfly egg will eat. Once the egg is laid, it will remain in this stage for 5 —10 days.

When the butterfly egg hatches, a tiny caterpillar emerges and immediately eats its own egg shell. In short time it begins to eat the leaf where it's egg was attached. In remains in the caterpillar stage for about 2 —4 weeks during which it will shed its skin 4 — 6 different times. During this stage a careful observer may see the tell-tale signs of eaten leaves. Depending on the caterpillars size, this damage can be significant.

ButterflyAfter about a month the caterpillar transforms into a pupa which is the stage we commonly call the cocoon. Once a caterpillar finds a good location to pupate, it begins making preparations for that change. The first step in this change haves the caterpillar weaving a patch of silk using its rear legs and attaches this pad to the plant stem. Most species hang upside down from their pad. Other butterfly species do things a bit different. Some pupate inside a thin covering of silk.

The pupae may be green or brown depending on the color of the surroundings. Inside the pupa case the caterpillar is transformed into an adult butterfly. Just before the adult butterfly emerges the pupa case may become transparent and reveal the butterfly within.

After the transformation is complete the pupa skin splits open near the head and the adult butterfly crawls out with its wings folded up. It moves to where it has room to hang upside down by its legs. The adult swallows air which helps to pump fluid into the veins of the wings and makes them expand to their full extent. The butterfly will remain still until the wings harden and then it can fly off.

Butterfly Egg
Butterfly Caterpillar
Butterfly Pupa (Chrysalis)
Adult Butterfly

In the far south, some butterfly species remain active throughout the winter. Up north it's too cold and they stop all activity, in a hibernation-like period of dormancy called diapause.

Each species usually has a fixed life stage in which it over winters. Some over winter as pupae, others over winter as caterpillars. Very few butterflies over winter as eggs. Most adult butterflies only live about 2 weeks unless they over winter as adults and then they can live many months. Some butterflies migrate from north to south and some even migrate from south to north and then to the south again the following summer.