Butterfly lifecycle Sprout Labs, LLC / www.sproutlabs.net

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The life cycle of a butterfly usually begins in the late spring or early summer when the adults mate. After mating occurs, the female lays her eggs. These eggs are the first stage in the butterfly’s life cycle.

Only a few of the eggs will become adult butterflies. The eggshell, called the chorion, is covered with raised ribs called reticulations. Eggs have funnel-shaped openings called micropyles that let food and water enter the egg.

Temperature determines when the eggs hatch. If the weather is warm, the eggs hatch after only a few days. If the weather is very cold, the eggs might never hatch. When the time is right, a tiny dot appears to peek out of the egg. This is the caterpillar’s head. The caterpillar starts chewing a hole in the eggshell to get out.

At this point, it’s ready to begin the next stage of its life cycle.

Butterfly eggs can be round, flat or shaped like a barrel.

Many butterflies lay eggs on the underside of plant leaves that their babies like to eat. Other butterflies lay eggs in flowers or in the cracks of tree bark.

Choosing where to lay eggs is a critical decision because the offspring are very hungry when they are born, For example, the monarch butterfly lays eggs on milkweed plants. If the mother monarch lays her eggs elsewhere, the newborn caterpillars might starve. Laying eggs on the underside of leaves also protects the eggs from predators

Camouflage is the only defense for the tiny new egg. The butterfly often tries to match the color of her eggs to the surroundings. While better than nothing, this technique is rarely successful. Despite the mother’s best efforts, birds and other predators eat most of her eggs

Fun facts

Most butterflies lay 200 – 300 eggs, but some lay up to 1,000.

Some eggs are laid one by one, and some are laid in groups.

Moth and butterfly eggs are the size of a grain of sand.

Each egg has a yolk inside that feeds the baby caterpillar.

Not all insects lay eggs. Some are live-bearers, just like humans.

Butterfly eggs may get infected by viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Female butterflies may look at ten different locations before deciding where to lay her eggs.

Only 1- 2 percent of all eggs survive.

Female butterflies leave chemical signals that tell other butterflies not to lay eggs at particular locations.

Monarch butterflies lay eggs during their migration from Canada to Mexico.

The eggshell is made from very nutritional substances.

The caterpillars that hatch out of eggs are also called larva.

Some caterpillars eat the egg from which they were born.


Caterpillars hatch from butterfly eggs. As soon as they are born, they set to work eating enormous amounts of leaves, which help them grow.

One catch to growing so much is that caterpillar skin doesn’t stretch, which is why they have to shed it when they become too big. Shedding skin is called molting. Caterpillars usually molt several times before they are fully grown.

Many caterpillars produce a silk thread, just like a spider’s. This thread acts as a lifeline because it allows caterpillars to drop from a leaf if they are attacked. The caterpillar can use the thread to find a way back to the leaf.

Different species of caterpillar use different techniques to ward off birds and other predators. While scent and poison are common techniques, camouflage is also very effective. Some caterpillars twist their bodies to look like dead leaves animal droppings.

After its final molt, the caterpillar is big and fat. At this point, it is ready to become a pupa.

Like other insects, caterpillars have a head, thorax and abdomen.

The head contains the eyes, antennae, jaws and teeth, which tear through leaves. Most butterfly eyes provide little detailed information because they don’t see that well. The caterpillar gets more information about the world from its antennae.

Many segments work together to help the caterpillar eat and move. The middle three segments of the caterpillar make up the thorax. Each segment in the thorax has a pair of real legs.

The rest of the segments make up the abdomen. Four pairs of fleshy prolegs extend from the abdomen. Suckers at the end of the prolegs help the caterpillar hold onto leaves. Unlike the legs attached to the thorax, these prolegs are not real legs. The stomach and other internal organs are found in the abdomen.

Fun facts

Caterpillars breath through holes called spiracles that are found along the sides of the thorax and abdomen.

Caterpillars are invertebrates. This means they have no backbone.

The bright colors of many caterpillars warn other animals that the caterpillar is poisonous.

A caterpillar’s first meal after coming out of the egg is often its eggshell.

Many rain forest caterpillars have thorny spikes on their heads to protect themselves.

Caterpillars have over 4,000 muscles in their bodies.

A few types of caterpillars have gills.

Different species of butterfly have differently colored caterpillars.

Caterpillar eyes can tell the difference between light and darkness, but not much more.

The hairstreak caterpillar oozes a sweet juice that ants love. The ants fight off any predators that attack the caterpillar.

Some caterpillars have tiny immature wings tucked inside their bodies.

Some adult butterflies keep some of their caterpillar muscles.

Studies suggest that some butterflies remember smells and other stimuli they were exposed to when they were caterpillars.

Some swallowtail caterpillars can inflate their body so that they look like small snakes.

Some caterpillars have stinging body hairs that wards off predators.

Caterpillar skin is an exoskeleton.


Once the caterpillar is full-grown, it stops eating. The energy obtained from food will be used to transform the caterpillar into a butterfly. During this phase of the lifecycle, the animal is neither a caterpillar nor a butterfly. It is called a pupa.

The process begins when the caterpillar starts looking for a safe place where it can make a special case called a chrysalis. The pupa will live inside this chrysalis. The chrysalis protects the pupa as it transforms itself into a butterfly.

The process is not entirely complete when the butterfly first emerges from the chrysalis. For starters, the proboscis is in two parts that must be zipped together before the butterfly can eat. Moreover, the new butterfly’s wings are damp, wrinkled, and too soft to fly. The lush colors have not developed. Within several hours, blood begins to flow through the veins in the wings.

Once the wings stiffen, they will open and the butterfly’s true colors appear.

Different species of butterflies create different types of chrysalises. Some caterpillars make cocoons from silk threads. Others fold a leaf around themselves and make the sides of the leaf stick together with silk threads.

In the case of monarchs and many other types of butterfly, the caterpillar’s skin hardens and turns into a chrysalis. You might find chrysalises in your garden.

Regardless what type of chrysalis the caterpillar makes, this is where the pupa breaks down and transforms itself into a butterfly. The pupa undergoes a series of complex chemical reactions that make this change possible.

At certain points, the pupa is a soupy mix of enzymes and other chemicals that help rearrange the parts of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The entire process is called metamorphosis. Once metamorphosis is complete, the new butterfly must struggle to free itself from the chrysalis.

Fun facts

Some pupae stay inside the chrysalis for months.

The pupa stage is the most dangerous because the pupa cannot defend itself.

The adult butterfly will not emerge until conditions are just right.

The word “pupa” means “doll” in Latin.

Pupa can make sounds to scare off predators.

Hatching is called eclosure.

Hormones in the caterpillar and pupa control timing of pupation and eclosure.

Pupae usually hang from a small black stem called a cremaster. Just like the caterpillar, the chrysalis also has spiracles so that the pupa can breathe.

Most chrysalises have a line of weakness that will crack open when the pupa is ready to eclose.

When ready to hatch, the butterfly takes a deep breath and expands, forcing the line of weakness to crack open.

Both caterpillar and pupa contain imaginal disks that have information needed to form wings, legs, antennae, and other body parts.

Another word for complete metamorphosis is holometaboly.

Scientists learn what happens inside a chrysalis by cutting it open or using an imaging technique called a micro-CT scan.

The caterpillar’s tracheal system, used in breathing, is one of the few things that survives metamorphosis largely unchanged.

Roughly 65 percent of all animal species are metamorphosing insects.


While butterflies are so beautiful that some people call them flying flowers, these animals aren’t just another pretty face. Scientists study both the bodies and the behavior of these animals to learn more about them.

Like all insects, butterflies have a head, thorax and abdomen. Butterfly heads have two antennae and two compound eyes, which can see in color. The head also holds the proboscis, a straw-like tongue that they use to drink nectar. When not used for drinking, the proboscis curls up in a spiral under the head.

The thorax holds two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs. Butterfly wings are made of thousands of tiny overlapping scales, which shimmer when light catches them.

The abdomen holds the heart and other organs. The butterfly doesn’t have a skeleton like ours. It has a hard covering called the exoskeleton.

In addition to feeding, butterflies are focused on staying warm and reproducing.

The female lays eggs after mating. Some butterflies lay their eggs when migrating.

The egg is the next step in the butterfly life cycle.

Butterflies are different from moths. While these two are similar, you can easily tell them apart. Unlike butterflies, which fly during the day, moths are most active at night.


Moths also rest with their wings open, and butterflies rest with their wings pressed together. Butterflies have long, thin bodies, and moths have thicker ones. Their antennae are also different.


These insects are very temperature sensitive. If the temperature gets too cold, they cannot fly. Some butterflies, like the monarch, migrate to warm places in the winter, just like birds. Such butterflies will make the trip only once. When migrating, thousands of monarchs come together and roost at the same locations used in previous years.

Fun Facts

Some patterns on butterflies look like other animals. This is good camouflage!

The world’s largest moth and butterfly both live in rain forests.

Butterflies can taste using their feet.

Some butterflies only live for a few days.

The “powder” on butterfly wings is made of scales.

A monarch butterfly can fly 80 miles in a day.

Female butterflies secrete perfume-like chemicals called pheromones to let males know that they are ready to mate.

Scientists estimate there are between 15,000 and 20,000 different kinds of butterflies.

Scientists classify butterflies as Lepidoptera, meaning "scaly wings."

Deforestation in Mexico and pesticides in the U.S. threatens monarch butterflies.

The number of monarch butterflies in Mexico dropped 82 percent between 1999 and 2014.

A monarch butterfly senses direction when migrating by a compass in its brain and circadian clocks in its antennae.

The average monarch weights a half a gram.

A butterfly getting hit by a raindrop would be like you getting hit by a bowling ball!

Monarch butterflies help pollinate flowers, which makes them grow better.

Butterfly mouths have hairs on either side called palps.

Butterflies do not have jaws.

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