The Life Cycle of a Butterfly

life cycle of a butterfly

Butterfly life cycles begin with an egg. Once hatching occurs, this produces caterpillars (plural of larva).

A larva lives and feeds throughout its day. As it develops, its skin sheds to allow more space for its expanding body. This process is known as “molting”.


A butterfly’s life begins as an egg. Female butterflies may lay hundreds of eggs each time, yet only some will develop into adult insects. Each egg is protected by a layer of chorion and equipped with an opening called a micropyle that allows sperm into its interior to fertilize the embryo while also allowing air flow, thus preventing dehydration in its contents.

After an egg hatches, its embryo transforms into larva. At this stage, caterpillars must consume food constantly in order to grow quickly. Once full size has been reached, caterpillars molt several times before moving on to the pupal stage of life cycle known as pupalism which lasts several weeks, months or more depending on butterfly species; protecting themselves within cocoon-shaped cases or cocoons made of silk for moths or suspended beneath branches for butterflies.

At its final instar, a caterpillar forms a pupal skin which may be solid-colored or covered in scales; then it moves on to become an adult butterfly.

Use these worksheets to help children better comprehend the stages of a butterfly’s life cycle, an excellent activity to complement Year 2 science learning about animals. Your students can order words and pictures of an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly to represent each stage in its cycle – this activity may even allow for group participation! Afterward, use a Venn diagram to compare their lives with that of a butterfly!


Once a larva has outgrown its larval skin, it stops feeding and moves elsewhere to form what is known as a pupal case (chrysalis in butterflies). At first glance it may look dead; however, inside is where one of Nature’s greatest transformations takes place!

At apolysis, the outer layers of larval skin break down and inner tissues reconfigure to form the adult body. This process is known as metamorphosis. When this process occurs, an old cuticle composed of tough material known as chitin and proteins will split in two. With each split comes release of hormones causing rapid expansion of new cuticle growth until an adult body emerges through this old one and stops moving; hanging upside down for several hours with wings fully expanded, as they inflate with fluid before drying them off later on.

At this point, eyes, palps and antennae become larger while wings begin to form; though initially smaller than an adult body; as wings will have to support weight as well as provide air resistance when flying.

Holometabolous larvae, such as those produced by caterpillars and diptera, undergo complete metamorphosis from egg to larva to nymph and adult stage before finally emerging as adult insects.

Researchers are still trying to understand exactly how larvae transform into adults; however, certain genes appear essential. Knockdown of gene ss during larval development phase produces changes in patterning of newly generated legs which carry over into adult appendages.


Once a larva has reached full-grown size, it will shed its last skin and transform into a pupa or chrysalis – an important stage that regulates temperature, provides camouflage protection from predators while its new body develops, as well as serving to repress adult butterfly genes while providing energy from old larval cells to feed the emerging adult butterfly.

Depending on its placement, chrysalises can be found attached to trees, rocks, crevices or even underneath leaves. Some butterflies make silk pads for resting or use their wings as support structures in their cocoon. Most remain immobile while inside their cocoon; however some can move abdomen segments to produce sound or vibrations that scare off predators. During pupal stage development of special cells present in eggs rapidly occurs to become legs, eyes wings and other body parts for adult butterflies while providing protection from weather or potential threats while they complete four stage life cycles in its cocoon cocoon stage.

Metamorphosis, or transformation, may take several weeks, months or even years depending on the species of butterfly. Some species complete one generation annually while others complete two or more. Prodoxus y-inversus, for instance, spends up to 30 years pupal-stage before becoming an adult butterfly and flying away to start its life cycle with eggs of its own.


The chrysalis is a small bag-like structure where insects transform from their larval state into adults. The cuticle, composed of chitin and proteins, encases this transformation process. A larva will shed its old cuticle around four to five times over its lifespan in a process called molting; hormone-triggered this shedding allows hard outer layers to split away from soft inner skin layer to allow new cuticle expand, harden, harden further and gain pigmentation; at this stage they begin transformation which leads directly into butterfly (or moth) metamorphosis or metamorphosis!

Larvae contain cells that will become wings, eyes and other organs of an adult insect; these need to be dismantled before being transformed into adult forms. Inside a chrysalis, a rich fluid breaks apart the old caterpillar into undifferentiated cells called “imaginal cells”, similar to stem cells in that they may develop into any cell type within its body. As they reorganize themselves back together into new shapes within its body – an adult emerges.

After the caterpillar completes its final molt, it starts searching for an ideal spot to form its chrysalis. It may attach itself with a button of silk to a branch or crawl beneath leaves or into crevices before finding its resting spot – perhaps attached by thread to an insectivorous plant, crawled beneath leaves, or crawling into crevices beneath leaves – depending on species it could remain there for weeks or even months depending on species before emerging into adulthood when its wings develop fully before emerging – when ready, split open by crawling out of its cocoon and hanging upside down so its wings can stretch out fully before emerging with new wings stretched open ready to fly away!


An important component of our ability to predict the future of butterfly populations lies in understanding this stage, the last and longest of their lifecycles. Unfortunately, it remains one of the least studied areas due to difficulty of research; overwintering larvae may remain suspended in leaf litter or soil for months or even years (and some species complete two or more cycles each year).

At first, this dormant stage may appear to last weeks or years depending on species; but during this stage special cells present in larval stage begin growing quickly to become wings, eyes, legs and other parts of adult insect. This growth event is known as molting; each new molt replaces the outer cuticle covering before another molt can occur and shed before new one.

After several weeks to years, a caterpillar will be ready to transform into an adult butterfly. Crawling out of its chrysalis, it will hang upside down for stretching and drying of its newly formed wings before inflating and flying off with them.

Courtship and reproduction are the final stages in the butterfly lifecycle. Males of many species roam their habitats searching for female butterflies that will respond to aerial courtship displays from males, then perform aerial displays themselves to attract them. Female butterflies then seek suitable host plants on which to lay their eggs. Some butterflies even produce multiple broods during summer months so this four-stage process repeats multiple times over its course.

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