A Diagram of a Butterfly’s Life Cycle

Students can use this diagram to gain an understanding of the complete transformation that happens between caterpillar and butterfly; also known as metamorphosis.

Once it reaches its maximum size, the caterpillar begins molting (shedding of its old skin) before creating its cocoon or chrysalis for future development.


NARRATOR: When male and female butterflies mate, the female butterfly lays her eggs on plants either during spring, summer, or fall – either tiny eggs that she carefully protects from predators; these become larvae – the second stage in butterfly development. The larva is highly active, eating its way through leaves and stems of plants as it splits and sheds its outer skin multiple times throughout its development – this process is called moulting. At each moulting stage, caterpillars reach their final larval stage before transitioning to pupation – attaching themselves with silk thread to a plant via button holes before emerging as pupae with tough shell-like forms called chrysalises that contain chitin (pronounced: KI-tin) proteins to help withstand their transformation into pupae form.

When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it may look as though nothing is happening; but inside, special cells are growing quickly to form legs, wings and eyes – serving both protection from enemies as well as providing shelter.

When the wings have developed enough, a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and can take flight.

Male butterflies look for their mate by patrolling an area or perching on tall plants, and when they spot one they swoop in and mate. After mating, their sperm is stored in an organ called an aedeagus until release during mating to fertilize butterfly eggs before developing into pupal stage where pupals emerge, which then mature and find suitable places for placement by the female butterfly laying her eggs and hatching out a new generation. Once this process known as metamorphosis completes itself each butterfly then seeks its own mates to begin its cycle and so it continues anew each cycle anew!


Butterfly eggs are some of the most intricate animal embryos to study. Their shapes range from spherical or ovate in shape and range in color from pale green, yellow and white hues based on species; covered by a hard outer shell known as chorion with openings called aeropyles that allow oxygen into their egg chamber.

Female butterflies spend much of their time searching for suitable plants to lay their eggs on, selecting those which contain chemically suitable foliage for their young caterpillars to feed on and develop on. While searching, she uses her spine-tipped feet to taste and smell each leaf’s foliage before landing briefly to assess if it meets this chemical criteria and select it accordingly.

Once she has identified an appropriate host plant, she prepares a place for her eggs by tearing off part of its stem or leaf and attaching a chrysalis constructed out of bits of wood or bark and tied together with silk – this stage doesn’t act as restful respite, however; rather it serves to promote further development and transformation.

Inside its chrysalis, old body parts of a butterfly undergo metamorphosis and transform into the delicate wings and delicate body of its eventual self. This process usually takes 10 days.

At this stage, female butterflies should not be disturbed, as their eggs are extremely vulnerable to predation. Unlike birds, reptiles and amphibians that lay their eggs underground burrows, butterflies lay their eggs directly onto the ground where they are exposed to sunlight, moisture and herbivorous predators like herbivorous animals that feed upon them.

Unsurprisingly, these two birth strategies offer similar advantages despite their seemingly disparate challenges. A live-birth mother must expend energy carrying her baby through gestation, while egg layers have greater freedom to produce more offspring at one time. Perhaps this explains why birds never evolved to lay live eggs – it would simply exhaust themselves too quickly without producing offspring in one go!


The third and final stage in a butterfly’s life cycle is called pupal (or chrysalis). At this time, it remains motionless inside an exoskeleton called a chrysalis that hangs down like a sack; its protective properties serve to aid with adult wing formation while its cells reorganize into new shapes for its wings, legs, and mouthparts – parts which first existed as clusters in larval stage but are gradually expanded until finally reaching adult size.

A chrysalis can take the form of a leaf, twig, or piece of bark and its skin can either be solid-colored or decorated by silk glands to produce beautiful patterns and designs.

A butterfly’s chrysalis is both its home and an indicator that there may be potential mates nearby. Male butterflies will search for females of their species by flying around or perching on plants near potential mating locations; when they spot one they will perform an aerial dance in pursuit of courting her and, should she agree to be mated, lay their eggs.

Female insects must carefully select an ideal location to mate and lay eggs, searching for suitable species by hitting them against leaves that emit characteristic aromas or by walking along branches to detect smooth areas which will serve as potential nest sites for their future pupal skins.

Once an ideal site has been selected, female birds will prepare to lay their eggs by secreting a sticky substance from her abdomen that allows the eggs to stick securely wherever she places them – depending on species they may be laid individually or collectively.

As female wasps prepare their eggs, they undergo another molt into the fifth instar. At this time, their banding pattern of the thorax becomes wider and velvetier while their front pair of legs become closer to the head. Furthermore, during this phase their tracheal system that supplies their wing veins also expands further.


The adult stage is a relatively brief but important period of life. In this stage, the butterfly is able to fly around and search for food over a much broader territory than it could during the larval or pupal stages. The butterflies’ mouths are tube-like and they eat various liquids such as nectar, which can be found in flowers, or other sources such as animal dung or the liquid from rotting fruit. The adult butterfly can also liquefy food for easier digestion.

During this phase, the male and female butterflies pair up for mating. During this process, the male butterfly transfers sperm from its pronotum to the female’s abdomen. Once the sperm is in the female’s body, she begins laying her eggs. These eggs may be laid individually or in clusters. Each egg has a sticky substance that helps it stick to a leaf or stem surface.

Once the eggs have been laid, they will hatch (eclosion) into larvae. The larvae will grow and eat until they become too large for their skin. Then, the larvae will molt. During the molting process, a hormone causes the caterpillar’s old cuticle to split apart from the softer epidermis beneath. The caterpillar will then grow a new cuticle, which is infused with pigment and rapidly hardens as it forms. During this time, the larva will continue to eat and grow in size.

At the end of its life as a larva, the caterpillar will prepare to pupate. Again, a hormone triggers the forming of a chrysalis. The chrysalis is a tough outer covering that will eventually transform into the wings of the adult butterfly. The chrysalis is not a “resting” stage, however, because the wings are formed in a complicated sequence that must be completed successfully before the adult insect emerges.

After a week or so of this transformation (which can last up to ten months for some species), the adult butterfly will emerge from its chrysalis. When it does, its wings will be wet and will need to pump fluid into them until they are stiff and ready for flight. Then, the adult will go about searching for a mate to repeat the cycle.

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