Butterfly Facts – Learn About the Life Cycle of a Butterfly

butterfly facts life cycle

Students will discover the various stages in a butterfly’s life cycle – eggs, larva, pupa and adult stages are discussed here.

Female butterflies lay many eggs to increase the chances of their offspring’s survival. To do this, they select an appropriate plant species and place their eggs under its leaves.


A butterfly begins its life as an egg. These eggs vary in shape and color depending on its species, with many being laid upon leaves or stems of plants so as to provide food when hatching occurs.

Female butterflies that are ready to lay their eggs typically attach them with sticky substances to the underside of a leaf or stem, placing clusters of eggs underneath. When fertilized by male butterfly sperm transferred during mating, fertilization occurs within 24 hours.

After an egg has been fertilized it undergoes the gastrulation process. During gastrulation the cell membrane thickens to create a cavity for filling with nutrients, proteins and other substances necessary for its development into butterfly. Once filled this cavity is covered by protective shell made of calcium carbonate and protected further with cuticle which acts as a natural barrier from bacteria or contaminants entering through its pores and holes.

Once an egg hatches, its contents become known as larva or caterpillar. As soon as feeding begins, this stage will quickly grow larger as well as shed skin multiple times to reveal new skin beneath.

Caterpillars are extremely vulnerable during this stage in their lives, preyed upon by birds, other insects, and parasites alike. Before reaching maturity for the next stage in their lives – like pupating into butterflies – caterpillars must complete certain instars (stages). Black swallowtail caterpillars for instance must complete five instars before becoming ready to pupate into butterflies.

As soon as a caterpillar reaches its fourth and final stage, it forms a cocoon or chrysalis in which to undergo its incredible transformation into the adult insect we know as butterflies. Our Twinkl Originals story “The Cautious Caterpillar” provides children with the perfect resource to understand this process as well as an assortment of ready-to-use supporting resources.


A butterfly’s second stage in its life cycle, or larva, is commonly known as a caterpillar. Larvae take anywhere from weeks to several years to mature into adults consuming lots of food and going through many moults (shedding) that allow new skin cells to form; once fully developed they transform into adult butterflies or moths.

Once a butterfly mates with a male, she seeks out suitable plant species on which to lay her eggs. Female butterflies recognize plant species by the color and shape of its leaves; once found, she lays them beneath one or multiple leaves with sticky substances produced by females that helps adhere them securely on underside of leaves or stems.

Once the eggs hatch, a larva forms from its unique cells – cells which will later form wings, legs, eyes and other components of a butterfly. Original larva cells provide energy for these growing adult cells as they divide. After eating its way through its body, the larva transforms into pupal stage before finally becoming an adult butterfly.

At this stage, larvae are protected from predators by an outer covering made up of silken threads called a cocoon; other insects use rocks, twigs or leaves instead as protective cloaks. This pupal stage typically lasts one to three weeks but may take as much as eight years for some wood-eating carpenter worm butterflies.

As soon as a butterfly or moth enters its pupal stage, its appearance begins to take on characteristics similar to its adult form. But in contrast with larval stage energy stores, there’s no food intake during pupation, providing enough energy to fuel its transformation into adult butterflies or moths.

Larvae are often adapted to survive in different environments than their adult forms, for example frog larvae are aquatic while as adults they switch over to terrestrial life (known as metamorphosis). This process occurs naturally.


At this stage in a butterfly’s life cycle, its larva molts multiple times to grow in size and become larger. Each time it sheds its outer covering known as cuticle and special cells within become the wings, eyes, and legs of its future adult butterfly form.

After reaching its full size, caterpillars seek a safe place for pupation – typically under leaves or within tree trunks – usually under leaves or among their roots. When ready, the caterpillar spins either silk pad on which it hangs, or creates a chrysalis which may or may not attach directly to a branch. While in its chrysalis form, caterpillars do not move or feed; rather they provide energy for developing wings, eyes, and mouth parts of future caterpillars as it develops inside.

The butterfly typically emerges after 5-21 days in its chrysalis. Once it has emerged, its wings may be soft and crumpled from staying inside its case, but as soon as they have dried completely they can take flight – marking a new chapter of life!

Once a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it cannot return there again; however, it may return to its birthplace to lay eggs and restart its lifecycle!

An understanding of the difference between a cocoon and chrysalis is important when looking for insects. Cocoons are used by moths, featuring soft silk coverings; while chrysalises provide butterflies with a protective hard shell.


As part of its final stage of metamorphosis, a caterpillar will shed its skin for good and emerge as an adult butterfly. Though visually different than its egg and larva stages, its purpose remains the same – to mate and lay eggs so a new life cycle may commence.

As the adult butterfly wanders about, it may feed on various liquids. Its proboscis, or tube-like tongue, uncoils to sip fluids before coiling back up when not feeding. Most butterflies prefer flower nectar but may eat honeydews, honeycombs, rotting fruit or even sweat or urine from people or animal sources as food sources. Furthermore, adult butterflies emit pheromones to attract mates.

An adult butterfly will often rest or shiver while inside its protective pupal covering, often decorated with camouflaging colors to distract predators or warning colors to warn potential predators that it contains distasteful substances, toxic ones or spine-covered spines that would make for dangerous prey! Unlike moths, however, most butterflies do not create cocoons during this phase.

During this seemingly still period, incredible things are taking place inside a butterfly’s exoskeleton. Special cells present during larval development begin rapidly growing into legs, wings and eyes of an adult butterfly – and many of those original larval cells provide the energy for this process of transformation.

Once a butterfly’s wings have fully developed, they emerge from its chrysalis and fly off in search of a mate. Male butterflies use their stingers to sting females before passing sperm back and forth between abdomens in order to mate successfully.

The delicate yet powerful life cycle of a butterfly is truly amazing to observe and study for students. Students can use the Venn diagram below to identify similarities and differences between adult butterflies and egg or larva stages of development, so as not to miss any parts.

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