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The Butterfly Life Cycle

All butterflies go through a complex life cycle that consists of four distinct developmental stages: egg, larva (or caterpillar), pupa (or chrysalis), and adult. Follow the arrows to trace this fascinating process - and then watch for it in a yard near you!

The Butterfly Life Cycle

No matter what their eventual size, all butterflies start out as tiny eggs. Female butterflies deposit their eggs on or near specific plants called host plants. In 1-2 weeks the eggs hatch to release tiny caterpillars which immediately begin feeding on the host plant. Caterpillars have very specific tastes. In fact, the larvae of each butterfly species feed only on certain, very specific, plant species. Consequently, butterfly larvae rarely become garden pests, but that's not to say they don't have huge appetites!

Butterfly larvae are highly efficient eating machines. It is their sole job to eat and grow, and they do both at astonishing rates. Unlike humans, butterfly larvae do not have internal skeletons. Instead, they wear their skeletons on the outside of their bodies. As a result, in order to grow, each larva must molt, or shed its outer skin numerous times during its life. Each time it molts, the larva may change considerably in size and appearance.

After 1-3 weeks of near constant eating and growing, the caterpillar seeks a safe place to go through metamorphosis. Most butterfly larvae attach themselves to a branch, leaf, or small twig with silk that they produce themselves. After a short rest, the caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis.

Inside the chrysalis, an amazing metamorphosis occurs. Larval structures are broken down and totally reorganized to form an adult butterfly. When environmental conditions are right, in 1-3 weeks, the chrysalis splits open and a beautiful butterfly emerges.

At first, the butterfly's wings are small, wet and crumpled. Rapidly though, they expand as the butterfly actively pumps blood through the veins in each wing. Within an hour or so, its wings are fully developed and the butterfly is ready to fly.

Jaret Daniels

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