Each stage in a butterfly cycle involves complete metamorphosis. From egg, larva, pupa and adult stages.
Once a caterpillar has reached maturity, they form a protective outer shell called a chrysalis that shields them until they’re ready to transform into butterflies.
When butterfly eggs hatch and develop into larva, they quickly transform into voracious eaters called caterpillars that feed off of other caterpillars’ waste products to rapidly increase in size by eating thousands of times their original body mass. Over this time, caterpillars molt their outer skin, or cuticle, several times as the caterpillar stretches beyond its stretching capacity; when this occurs too soon, old cuticle sheds off and new skin forms underneath through an ecdysis process known as ecdysis.
As it feeds, a caterpillar releases digestive juices to break down its own tissues into what’s known as “tissue cell soup,” providing essential nutrition for its wings, legs, eyes, mouth parts and genitalia to form. It’s truly remarkable!
At its saturation point, when the caterpillar’s growth reaches its maximum capacity, it stops eating and becomes immobile. At this point, its body prepares to transform into a butterfly! A caterpillar will typically go through multiple chrysalises before finally emerging as a butterfly; spending several weeks or months dormant before emerging as an adult butterfly. Some butterfly species even overwinter in chrysalises!
Once a caterpillar reaches its final larval stage, it sheds its cuticle and moves on to the pupal phase of butterfly development. During this restful and transformative stage, its cuticle sheds off, and it enters the pupal stage – often decorated with camouflaging colors or bright warning hues to discourage predators; its chrysalis can then be suspended from branches, hidden within leaves, buried underground or constructed out of silk as with this black swallowtail caterpillar featured herein.
Use our free Butterfly Life Cycle Printables to help children learn about and trace the shapes and patterns of these amazing insects on paper or poster board, then color in their designs on either side – caterpillar and egg on one side and chrysalis on the other. Alternatively, they could fold it along its long edge, showing both caterpillar and egg alongside chrysalis with blank side to draw their butterfly pattern (as illustrated). They could cut out and display this shape on their desk or wall as a visual reminder of this fascinating butterfly life cycle cycle!
The pupal stage, the final larval stage, marks an exciting stage in insect development: preparation for adulthood. A caterpillar undergoes complete transformation during this phase – its molecules break apart and reform into butterfly or moth wings or wings; furthermore, its body elongates while being sealed off into either a cocoon (chrysalis), cocoon or skin case for metamorphosis – known as metamorphosis.
The front legs of a caterpillar have now shrunk down significantly and moved closer to its head; and its black bands on its thorax now appear more velvety-smooth. It has reached its fifth instar and will soon enter pupal stage.
Holometabolous caterpillars, or those which undergo complete metamorphosis, are known as holometabolous. With special bodies that help facilitate rapid transformations, these caterpillars must acquire enough nutrition through feeding to power this fast transformation.
While transitioning into its adult form, a caterpillar loses nearly half its bodyweight. Unable to excrete or defecate in its chrysalis, waste products build up inside. Furthermore, growth continues as it transforms into adulthood, necessitating continual eating for sustenance.
Pupation may last from weeks to months depending on temperature and species of insect, though in cold climates a caterpillar pupa could enter diapause – similar to hibernating. Pupation will resume again come springtime when it becomes time to emerge as an adult butterfly.
As part of their study of butterfly life cycles, you should ask students to create a Venn diagram and compare their physical changes with that of a caterpillar as it progresses from egg, larva and pupa stages. They then should write a paragraph outlining what they found – this activity will develop their scientific vocabulary while giving them insight into butterfly development.
Once a caterpillar has outgrown its skin, it seeks a safe place and undergoes its final molt before forming an encasement known as a chrysalis – this stage in metamorphosis will turn it into either a butterfly or moth! You can observe its development through microscope. At that stage of metamorphosis it even possible to observe butterfly wings form before becoming visible!
The chrysalis provides rich fluid for a butterfly to use in developing its new body. Cells within the chrysalis begin dividing into undifferentiated “imaginal cells,” similar to stem cells, that can become any type of cell within it. As more cells divide into these imaginal cells they begin filling the surface forming wavy patterns as they eventually fill the whole of its surface area. A few days before emerging as butterfly emerges it begins changing color gradually from light green to darker orange until reaching its final phase whereby it turns from light green to dark orange at its final phase of transformation.
As the chrysalis matures, waves of body contractions begin that push the caterpillar’s skin up and stretch it backward. Additionally, head nodding may also occur repeatedly before it emerges through cracks in its shell – eventually coming out through one and crawling out, hanging upside-down for several minutes so its wings may fully stretch and dry before emerging out again.
Once this occurs, the butterfly can spread its wings to dry out and harden – ready to return home and continue its life cycle.
Once a butterfly has flown away, it finds a mate, lays eggs on Larval Host Plants, and returns to its chrysalis for further transformation. This cycle then continues again and again: butterflies develop into adults, lay more eggs and go through caterpillar and chrysalis stages to return as caterpillars or butterflies; once adults emerge they find food and mates; they lay more eggs; go back through caterpillar and chrysalis stages before becoming caterpillars then caterpillars then become caterpillars then butterflies again before dying before beginning all over again when female butterflies laying eggs hopes some of her fertilized ones make it back through to Chrysalis Stage, so that eventually transform into beautiful butterflies that fly away and die off before beginning life cycle is begun again, beginning its long journey from fertilized butterfly eggs, larval host plants, chrysalises stage and finally becoming adult butterflies again!
Once a female butterfly lays her eggs on a plant species that she intends to use as her offspring’s home, tiny worm-like larva emerge from them and hatch. Over several days or even a year-long larval period, caterpillars eat their host plant in order to feed and gain strength, gradually moulting as they do so and expending old skin by eating more host plants as their host.
Once a caterpillar reaches a size where its skin no longer fits, it stops eating, seeks shelter in an appropriate area and forms an encasement known as a chrysalis. At first glance, this structure may look like an inactive sac; however, incredible transformation is taking place within it: all cells within are broken down and reorganized, eventually producing an adult insect.
Similarly, the chrysalis protects caterpillars from predators and weather while they transition. When they reach their final, enlarged size, they shed their skin for the final time before entering pupal stage which generally lasts no more than one year; most moth caterpillars spin silk cocoons during this phase while most butterfly species form a chrysalis.
While caterpillars pupate into butterflies, male butterflies search for potential female partners to mate with. A male butterfly will patrol certain areas where other butterflies tend to gather or perch on tree trunks or leaves known to contain potential partners – once it spots such an individual it will fly closer for closer inspection and attempt mating with them.
Once female butterflies mate, they will search for suitable plants on which to lay their eggs. She can recognize the species by its leaf color or shape or by beating on them with her feet releasing an identifiable plant scent.
Once a female butterfly lays her eggs, which will hatch back into caterpillar stage once again, and eventually mature into adults that mate and lay more eggs; the cycle continues until adult butterflies find partners or the females lay eggs on plants that provide enough food to sustain life.