Let’s explore a
butterfly’s life cycle in detail, including
all four stages of life. All butterflies have
"complete metamorphosis." 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. You
can print out this Butterfly
Life Cycle coloring page to follow along
as we talk about the 4 stages.
Butterfly Eggs on a Leaf
The First Stage:
A butterfly starts
life as a very small, round, oval or
cylindrical egg. The coolest thing about
butterfly eggs, especially monarch butterfly
eggs, is that if you look close enough you can
actually see the tiny caterpillar growing
inside of it. Some butterfly eggs may be
round, some oval and some may be ribbed while
others may have other features. The egg shape
depends on the type of butterfly that laid the
Butterfly eggs 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
The Second Stage:
The Larva (Caterpillar)
When the egg
finally hatches, most of you would expect for
a butterfly to emerge, right? Well, not
exactly. 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 caterpillar needs to hatch on the kind of
leaf it wants to eat.
to eat and eat so they can grow quickly. When
a caterpillar is 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” (sheding the
outgrown skin) several times while it grows.
Caterpillar Becoming a Chrysalis
The Third Stage:
Monarch Caterpillar Becoming a 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
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, called ‘metamorphosis,’ 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 is now
ready for the final stage of a butterfly’s
Butterfly Emerging from a Chrysalis
The Fourth Stage:
Watch a Monarch Hatching
Finally, when the
caterpillar has done all of its forming and
changing inside the pupa, if you are lucky,
you will get to see an adult butterfly emerge.
When the butterfly first emerges from the
chrysalis, both of the wings are going to be
soft and folded against its body. This is
because the butterfly had to fit all its new
parts inside of the pupa.
As soon as the
butterfly has rested after coming out of the
chrysalis, it will pump blood into the wings
in order to get them working and flapping –
then they get to fly. Usually within a
three or four-hour period, the butterfly will
master flying and will search for a mate in
order to reproduce.
When in the fourth
and final stage of their lives, adult
butterflies are constantly on the look out to
reproduce and when a female lays their eggs on
some leaves, the butterfly life cycle will
start all over.
These kids got to observe live Painted Lady caterpillars turn into Butterflies.
There are many
different ways that you can catch this miracle
happen right before your eyes, for instance,
there are live
butterfly kits that come with caterpillars
so you can see this amazing transformation
right in front of you!
butterfly kits are amazing for a science
project or simply for children to learn
all about the ever-changing caterpillar and
the butterfly’s life cycle in general.
One of the greatest things about these live
butterfly kits is the fact that after the
butterflies hatch out of their pupas, you can
observe them for a little while and then let
butterflies go is not only a satisfying
experience but it is one that is very
important to teach your children.
Children have to learn that animals do not
need to be locked up and while it is okay to
observe them sometimes, it is always best to
let nature take its course.
Now that you have
learned all about the butterfly’s life
cycle, why don’t you teach someone else?
This amazing life cycle is a great lesson for
anyone to learn and it is not only a lesson
that involves an ever-changing insect, but it
is one that we can apply to ourselves as well.
For instance, when a child is feeling down on
themselves, you can explain to them that not
only do people change inside every day, but
insects like the butterfly do too.
The butterfly life
cycle is a great story to tell anyone and
everyone and it is even better to observe it
happen right in front of you. Live
butterfly kits allow you to see for yourself
the entire life cycle of this incredible
creature and allows your children to learn
more and more about these beautiful insects!
pictures of the stages of the Anise
swallowtail butterfly life cycle with emphasis
on caterpillars and raising them, but many
butterfly pictures as well. One of the best
written and documented butterfly rearing sites
out there. Also fun to read!!