A Life Cycle of Butterfly

An adult butterfly goes through four distinct stages to reach adulthood: egg, larva, pupa and finally butterfly.

Female butterflies lay eggs on specific host plants. After hatching into larva, these feed and grow. Over time, their skin sheds multiple times in what’s known as molting.


At the outset of butterfly life cycles, female butterflies lay eggs. Typically this will occur near an appropriate plant species for caterpillars to feed upon when they hatch out as caterpillars. Females usually lay multiple eggs that contain protective fluid. Some species’ eggs blend in seamlessly while others stand out and serve as warnings against predators.

Once eggs hatch, they give rise to larvae – commonly referred to as maggots or pupae – that feed and expand rapidly during this stage of a butterfly’s life cycle, often doubling in size within weeks due to mitosis and producing new cells at an incredible rate. This phase can last several weeks depending on its species of butterfly as well as environmental conditions in its environment.

Once a larva has reached full size, it will stop eating and enter a period known as diapause – the stage during which its wings develop and it prepares to emerge as an adult insect.

Some caterpillars will need to go through four or more instars before being ready for pupation. When that time arrives, the caterpillar will shed its outer protective skin (known as “molting”) before creating its chrysalis or eclosing where further growth and development occurs.

Butterflies can recognize suitable host plants by scent, color and shape of their leaves, or by beating the leaves with their feet to release a distinctive scent that has been released by them.

Some butterflies are univoltine, meaning that each year they complete one complete cycle in their lives. But others are multivoltine and can complete two or more cycles a year once emerging from their chrysalis. Once out, these multivoltines will find a mate and lay new eggs to continue the cycle anew.


Once hatched from an egg, a butterfly larva, commonly referred to as a caterpillar, starts feeding on leaves of its host plant for sustenance and also sheds its skin several times by molting. As soon as it reaches full size, however, it finds somewhere stable to attach itself and forms a hard shell casing called a chrysalis; our Associate Director of Living Exhibits Hazel Davies describes how in this motionless casement the caterpillar breaks down on a cellular level before reforming itself into its new forms.

Adult butterflies or moths, the stage we most commonly encounter them in, undergo the final stage in their lifecycle as adults, which we witness most frequently. Here they may fly, search for mates, feed and even migrate depending on species – eventually producing eggs to restart the cycle all over again.

As butterflies and moths emerge from their chrysalises, their first steps out may resemble something of a spider with short legs and wings that still look wet – this is due to them not yet fully opening yet and needing fluid pumped through them in order to straighten out. After some time has passed however, their wings will open fully and be ready to fly away.

While all butterfly species share some similar life cycle details, each has its own set of specific requirements that vary from generation to generation. For instance, Mourning Cloak butterflies overwinter in Mexico where they enter diapause during winter months. To gain more information about one specific butterfly species on this website please check out their individual accounts.


Once a caterpillar has outgrown its egg, it will seek out a safe location and enter its pupal stage. Here it will remain without food while it undergoes complete transformation into a butterfly; during this stage it sheds its skin four to five times in what’s called “molting,” growing larger each time as its skin was shed off (molting). When nearly ready, it attaches itself securely to either a branch or wall using silk, creating a cocoon that forms into what resembles a cocoon-shaped cocoon known as chrysalis to protect itself against predators as well as unfavorable weather conditions or threats such as threats such as unfavorable weather conditions or threats such as predators.

Once inside the chrysalis, a caterpillar begins its transformation into a butterfly. Their old body will be broken apart and reconfigured into wings, legs, and other parts that resemble those found on butterflies. Chrysalises tend to be hard-shelled for camouflage purposes while not feeding during this stage; as a result, transformation may take up to one year for complete transformation.

Once transformation has taken place, the chrysalis will open and an adult butterfly will emerge. After flying off safely, this butterfly will mate and lay eggs which will hatch into larvae that begin the cycle once more.

Many butterfly species experience full metamorphosis; however, certain insects such as dragonflies and grasshoppers experience incomplete metamorphosis where their nymphs still resemble adult forms; they molt multiple times before finally becoming winged adults.

Students can use Edraw Max Online’s drawing tools to create a diagram depicting the life cycle of a butterfly. As part of step one, they should draw a worm-like figure with multiple legs and strokes on its back; step two should include adding wings with shading applied; for step three, they must create the chrysalis with shading as well. Finally, students should add the butterfly itself emerging from its cocoon!


Adult butterflies represent the final stage in a butterfly’s life cycle: flight. Flying allows adult butterflies to drink nectar and lay eggs; they may also mate, unlike caterpillars which feed off leaves during this stage of their lives. Adult butterflies usually live for two to eight months depending on species and weather conditions; some adults may spend winter as pupae before entering diapause for two months or longer before emerging back as adults again in springtime.

Egg (noun): an oval or round body with a flattened surface that houses an embryo within. A butterfly egg features an adhesive surface to secure its contents during development; in fact, its embryo goes through incredible metamorphosis before emerging as its own unique insect!

Caterpillar (noun): A caterpillar is the long, wormlike stage of butterfly or moth life characterized by striking stripes and spots, typically with four shed skins as it sheds as part of its transformation to its next stage – commonly referred to as a “chrysalis.” While moth caterpillars spin silk cocoons to protect themselves from predators, butterflies do not spin their cocoons but instead stay within hard and often beautiful chrysalises that either blend in seamlessly or have bright warning colors that warn off would-be predators.

At its heart lies a chrysalis: an enclosure wherein an old caterpillar body completely dismantles on a cellular level and begins reorganizing into that of an adult butterfly. This transition may take as little as a few days or up to a year.

As soon as a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it becomes wet and wrinkled – but ready to fly! A female butterfly immediately seeks out a location to lay its eggs; she recognizes appropriate plant species by its leaf color and shape and may tap its leaves to produce characteristic plant odors to alert potential laying partners that she has found them. Once male butterflies find her she will mate before beginning egg-laying process.

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