To grow into an adult they go through 4 stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Each stage has a different goal – for instance, caterpillars need to eat a lot, and adults need to reproduce. Depending on the type of butterfly, the life cycle of a butterfly may take anywhere from one month to a whole year.
The First Stage: The Egg
A butterfly starts life as a very small, round, oval or cylindrical egg. They are usually laid on the leaves of plants, so if you are actively searching for these very tiny eggs, you will have to take some time and examine quite a few leaves in order to find some.
The egg stage lasts a few weeks in most butterflies but eggs laid close to winter, especially in temperate regions, go through a resting stage, and the hatching may take place only in spring. Other butterflies may lay their eggs in the spring and have them hatch in the summer.
The coolest thing about butterfly eggs, especially monarch butterfly eggs, is that if you look close enough you can actually see the tiny caterpillar-butterfly inside of it.
The Second Stage: The Larva (Caterpillar)
When the egg finally hatches, most of you would expect for a butterfly to emerge, right? Well, in the butterfly’s life cycle, there are four stages and this is only the second stage. Butterfly larvae are actually what we call caterpillars. Caterpillars do not stay in this stage for very long and mostly, in this stage all they do is eat.
When the egg hatches, the caterpillar will start his work and eat the leaf they were born onto. This is really important because the mother butterfly needs to lay her eggs on the type of leaf the caterpillar will eat – each caterpillar type likes only certain types of leaves. Since they are tiny and can not travel to a new plant, the caterpillars need to hatch on the kind of leaf it wants to eat.
Caterpillars need to eat and eat so they can grow quickly. When caterpillars are born, they are extremely small. When they start eating, they instantly start growing and expanding. Their exoskeleton (skin) does not stretch or grow, so they grow by “molting” (shedding the outgrown skin) several times while they grow.
The Third Stage: Pupa (Chrysalis)
The pupa stage is one of the coolest stages of a butterfly’s life. As soon as a caterpillar is done growing and they have reached their full length/weight, they form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis. From the outside of the pupa, it looks as if the caterpillar may just be resting, but the inside is where all of the action is. Inside of the pupa, the caterpillar is rapidly changing.
Now, as most people know, caterpillars are short, stubby and have no wings at all. Within the chrysalis the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. Tissue, limbs and organs of a caterpillar have all been changed by the time the pupa is finished, and butterfly becomes ready for the final stage of its life cycle.
The Fourth Stage: Adult Butterfly
When the butterfly first emerges from the chrysalis, both of the wings are soft and folded against its body. This is because the butterfly had to fit all its new parts inside the pupa.
As soon as the butterfly comes out of the chrysalis, blood is pumped into the wings in order to get them working and flapping. Usually within a three or four-hour period, the butterfly will master flying and will search for a mate in order to reproduce and the butterfly life cycle will start all over.
Don’t forget to check out part 2 of this article – All About Butterflies – Part 2
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