The Life Cycle of the Butterfly

Butterfly life begins as an egg and evolves into an aquatic larva that feeds rapidly on plant material before metamorphosing into an adult butterfly with special cells forming its legs, wings and eyes.

After this stage, the caterpillar will form a hard shell called a chrysalis and within it it restructures into an adult butterfly before laying eggs that will begin the cycle again!


At the core of a butterfly’s life cycle is its egg. A female butterfly lays her eggs on plants that will serve as food sources for any caterpillars that hatch from them; she recognizes these species by their leaf color, shape, or even smell – should she lay her eggs elsewhere, their offspring would likely die since certain caterpillar species prefer feeding on particular leaves only.

Butterfly eggs are small and can range in shape and color; some are smooth while others feature ribbed or honeycomb textures. A butterfly typically lays its eggs either singly or clustered together using sticky substances produced by its host butterfly to ensure they stick in place where she puts them; there are small funnel-shaped openings on top of each egg which allow air and water into it during development.

After several days, butterfly eggs hatch. A tiny caterpillar called a larva emerges from these eggs, eating through its food source quickly as it continues to feed on it and growing quickly as a larva. Through five stages known as instars, this stage completes its cycle before emerging as an adult butterfly and pupating to become its next stage in its life cycle – pupation.

Once a caterpillar reaches maturity, it sheds its skin to prepare for its next phase in life. After this step has occurred, it forms a chrysalis; which marks the last stage of embryonic life. A chrysalis can take on solid colors like brown or green to blend in better with its surroundings; its soft shell allows the butterfly to slowly form its hard parts before hanging upside down and pumping blood into its wings.

Butterfly coloring sheets provide a fascinating journey through four stages in its life cycle – eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and adults! Use this coloring sheet to trace each stage – an egg, caterpillars, chrysalis and adult.


As part of their transformation from butterfly to moth, butterflies lay their eggs on plants that will serve as hosts for their larvae; when these eggs hatch out and the caterpillar larvae consume the leaves of its host plant quickly. Unfortunately, this stage in their lives is also vulnerable to predators and parasites who prey upon caterpillars.

The larvae have an outer hard shell called the chorion that serves to protect them, along with two short antennae and mouthparts which include an upper lip, lower lip, two rows of teeth and six pairs of simple eyes known as ocelli.

Once it reaches full size, a caterpillar may molt four or five times during its growth stage, a process known as “molting”. Once at its maximum size, however, it stops eating and appears swollen and tattered before searching out a place to form its chrysalis. Some caterpillars lay theirs in leaf litter or on log piles where it will attach via silk thread spun from jaw spinnerets attached with jaw claspers; others hang from plants using rear claspers; once at their final destination they molt one final time before creating hard covering called pupal skin for its pupal stage – ultimately leading up to complete transformation and release from this stage!

Once a pupal skin forms, it will have a dark color so as to more effectively disguise its host caterpillar within. Once inside, this caterpillar releases digestive juices that breakdown its old body and reform it into one with wings, body, legs and genitalia; eventually becoming an adult butterfly!

At the conclusion of its lifecycle, butterflies reach adulthood: emerging from its chrysalis and flying away to begin its new cycle. Traveling or mating may occur while female butterflies may also lay more eggs to continue this cycle – monarch butterflies being an especially effective example due to their iconic orange and black wing pattern that allows people to easily spot these stunning insects during long migration journeys.


As soon as a caterpillar is ready to transform into an adult, it seeks a safe location in which it can form its chrysalis (or cocoon). Metamorphosis takes up most of a caterpillar’s energy; they cannot consume or excrete during this process and it could take months before emerging from its cocoon as an adult.

At first glance, nothing seems to be happening during this stage, but underneath, special cells are quickly multiplying and creating wings, antennae, legs and other parts of a butterfly from cells from its former body. Cells taken from its old body provide energy for these new cells. Finally, the caterpillar will shed its skin for good; once dormant the newly-formed chrysalis resembles its former self but has much smoother features with ridged surface that will become the butterfly wings in due course.

Once a chrysalis has formed, the butterfly’s back prolegs hook into it to create a J-shaped opening and allow the insect to hang from it with body stretched out. Transformation to adult form takes five to 21 days; when they emerge they appear with shiny greenish hue and crawl out of an opening in its surface where their wings have dried enough for stretching before air inflation sets in, and can fly away to feed and find a mate.

A butterfly’s life cycle offers many educational advantages to students. Students could use its life story as an introduction to metamorphosis; perhaps by drawing comparisons between their personal changes and those experienced by butterflies.

The Chrysalis Flight ministry from The Upper Room provides participants with an opportunity to experience Christ’s friendship and love while giving it out in service of others. For more information, visit their Chrysalis Flight website.


Adult butterflies exist solely to mate and lay eggs. Their sustenance comes primarily from sipping nectar from flowers and may include carrion or dung. Some species, like monarchs and mourning cloaks, migrate to warmer climates or spend winter as adults within hollow trees or under bark for overwintering purposes.

Butterfly eggs take many different shapes – bullets, discs, turbans and spheres – and range in color from pearly white to bark brown or even rusty red. Female butterflies laying hundreds of these tiny eggs on plants chosen as host hosts by themselves for her offspring to hatch from.

As a larva advances through its various developmental stages known as instars, its outer cuticle or “moult” sheds and new ones grow – this happens roughly once every three to four weeks during summer season and exposes another instar. With each successive moult comes new insights about where it will develop further.

Moulting is when the caterpillar undergoes rapid cell division to form wings, eyes and other parts of its butterfly form. At this point, feeding stops.

Once its moult has completed, the caterpillar heads to a safe location to create its chrysalis. Although it looks inactive from the outside, incredible processes are taking place inside this tiny cocoon; its cells are breaking down completely as part of its transformation into a butterfly.

The lifespan of a butterfly chrysalis depends on its species; typically between days to years depending on conditions. When ready, when an emerging butterfly wants to leave its cocoon it crawls over its body and pulls itself through it.

As soon as its wings have fully expanded and dried, a butterfly takes flight in search of food and a mate. On its journey, pollen grains spread from flower to flower helping initiate reproduction across multiple plant species.

Butterflies use pheromones – chemicals released by animals which trigger reactions in other members of their species – to attract potential mates. They patrol or fly over an area, perching on tall plants until a male and female of the same species meet and mate; once mating occurs it takes approximately fifteen hours before mating occurs again and so begins the cycle again.

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