Butterfly Cycles For Kids – Learn About the Four Stages of a Butterfly’s Life

Butterfly cycles for kids make learning about the four stages of a butterfly’s life engaging and educational. Let’s begin with its eggs – small, fragile creatures with colors varying depending on its mother – before exploring what comes next in its journey – wings!

Caterpillars eat voraciously and grow, feeding on leaves before shredding their skin off repeatedly to reveal fresh new layers beneath. This process, known as “molting”, allows them to remain comfortable as they traverse life cycles.


Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) insect order members undergo four distinct life stages or transformation, or metamorphosis. Each stage – egg, larva, pupa, and adult- serves an important purpose during butterfly development.

Female butterflies lay their fertilized eggs, which differ in shape and size depending on the species of butterfly. Some lay single eggs while others such as monarchs lay clustered ones. This stage usually lasts four to two weeks after which their caterpillar-like offspring emerges and enter the second life phase known as cocooning.

Once a caterpillar emerges from its egg, it quickly begins eating voraciously. Its front legs contain hook-like structures known as tarsi that attach themselves to vegetation and flowers for easier consumption, while mandibles provide teeth-like jaws used for chewing food. Once large enough, caterpillars begin molting four times during their lives – this process being known as moulting.

Once a caterpillar reaches its final worm-like stage, it searches for an ideal place to pupate. It may decide to do this under a leaf surface or create its own protective cocoon from silk that helps hide them while they grow into their adult forms such as butterfly or moth butterflies or moths.

At this stage, the caterpillar undergoes numerous major transformations. This includes changing its wings into functional adult wings; secreting special chemicals called pheromones which attract females of their species; and performing a courtship dance which involves flapping its wings in certain patterns in order to attract potential mates.

Once a male has successfully mated with a female of their species, he will lay fertilized eggs on plants which will provide food for future generations of butterflies. Once complete, he will search out another partner and the cycle continues all over again.


The larva is an avid feeder and devours leaves from its host plant. At this stage, the caterpillar feeds voraciously on leaves before rapidly developing internal organs. Shedding its outer skin – known as its exoskeleton – several times as it grows is also part of this stage; during which it sheds five times. Exoskeleton contains special discs which enable its shape changes due to imaginal cells moving around these discs that take on shapes of adult body parts such as wings, eyes, legs or mouthparts.

Once the caterpillar reaches its final instar, it stops eating and searches for a place to pupate. This could involve attaching itself to branches, foodplants or even the ground before creating its protective covering known as a chrysalis which may be either green or brown depending on which species of butterfly has taken over its lifecycle.

At this final stage, a caterpillar prepares to become either a butterfly or moth by remaining in its chrysalis for several weeks while its imaginal discs complete metamorphosis. At the same time, digestive juices released by its digestive tract break down its old exoskeleton into “tissue cell soup”.

As soon as a caterpillar releases this fluid, its exoskeleton falls away for good and its new chrysalis hangs like an overgrown sac until the time comes to change into an adult butterfly.

As soon as a caterpillar becomes secure within its chrysalis, it begins developing an adult body within its shell. Rudimentary wings begin forming but must wait until its shell has completely hardened before emerging as an adult butterfly. Some species of butterflies overwinter as chrysalises; for instance the Black Swallowtail stays dormant until Spring, while other types emerge after only several weeks as adults. Such dramatic transformation is frequently used as a religious metaphor or to symbolize change and spiritual renewal; many religious texts refer back to it as such transformation as well.


The pupal stage, also referred to as a cocoon or chrysalis (pronounced pew-pee-sis), marks the final instar of larval development and leads to adult insects. It is an inactive and usually sessile phase where metamorphosis takes place when an insect sheds its old skin to develop an adult body – typically this lasts only days or weeks but some insects, like fleas, may remain there for months at a time.

At this stage, adult wings are being created through a process known as imaginalization, in which haemolymph is pumped into their veins to develop them into larger and more fully developed versions than their larval wings. At this point, an insect is ready for flight!

Insects form pupal cases or cocoons to protect themselves during this phase. An example is a moth caterpillar’s silken chrysalis that it spins as it changes into an adult butterfly; typically dark in hue to provide camouflage from predators. Moth caterpillars usually pupate underground or within loose bark of trees while most butterflies spin a silk pad to rest on or attach themselves vertical surfaces such as branches, walls or fences to support their cocoon.

Some insects such as ants and bees create inactive pupal cuticles, while other insects construct active ones with free appendages within their shell, known as obtect pupae and are found among lepidopteran species such as monarchs and painted ladies. Other butterflies use more exposed pupal coverings known as adecticous pupae to dry their wings; this pattern can be found among Strepsiptera, Neuroptera Cyclorrhapha of Dipterans Dipterans and some Hymenoptera species (ants and bees).

Once an adult butterfly has fully emerged from its pupal case, it makes its debut by splitting off its exoskeleton through eclosion. Butterfly emergence occurs typically early morning and can be caused by vibrations (e.g. footsteps from an unwitting host). Expression of Kr-h1 in both hemimetabolous and holometabolous larvae and pupae supports this notion that these preadult stages share similar (but not identical) evolutionary histories.


Adult butterflies emerge after 10 days of pupation within a chrysalis and emerge wingless as adults, flying off to nectar flowers with long proboscis tongues to drink nectar for energy and find mates for mating before laying eggs of their own generation.

Female butterflies deposit fertilized eggs onto specific host plant species known as host plants. The tiny butterfly eggs range in shape and color from pearly white, disc-shaped, turban-shaped or sphere-shaped; each being one or more bullets, discs, turbans or spheres in shape and are pearly white to bark brown and rusty red in hue. When the egg hatches a larva develops within it. Once this larva matures into a caterpillar it starts feeding voraciously on host plant leaves using its special mouthparts specialized mouthparts to chew on host plant leaves; as it feeds it expands until reaching 4th or 5th instar (stage), when its skin shed four times to accommodate its growing body size and change appearance.

Once a caterpillar reaches its final instar, it forms a silken cocoon called a chrysalis that blends into its surrounding environment – usually green or brown to match. Within this cocoon are special cells which transform into the wings, eyes, legs and other adult structures of a butterfly during what’s known as its “molt”. Nymphs may remain inside this cocoon for one week to several months depending on its temperature conditions and environmental factors.

As a nymph develops, it goes through numerous molts that gradually make it look more adult-like until finally becoming ready to emerge as an adult butterfly or moth.

Once a chrysalis has broken open, its contents release a fluid which helps stretch and dry the wings of a butterfly/moth, as it crawls out and hangs upside down to aid this process. After two hours have passed since this initial process began, its full expansion occurs and then flying begins with feeding, finding a mate, and starting over in its cycle all over again.

Visit the Museum’s Butterfly Conservatory to witness this entire life cycle in action! It’s an exquisite setting where visitors can observe butterflies from across the world and learn more about their short, yet captivating lives.

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