Butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis in four stages of life: egg, larva (or caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis in butterflies), and adult. The female will lay 50 to 1,000 tiny eggs1 on the leaves of a host plant, which will later serve as food for the larvae. Some eggs are laid on the ground where the host plants will grow the next year, or on the base of tree buds so that the larvae will emerge out under newly expanding leaves.2 The butterflies always seem to know just where to lay their precious eggs.

In the spring, the butterfly larva breaks out of its egg and begins to feed on its food source. The butterfly caterpillar is often brightly coloured, and some are fuzzy, while others are not. The caterpillar feeds so much that it outgrows its exoskeleton and therefore must shed, or molt, its skin several times.3 Later the caterpillar will form a chrysalis, which can be brightly coloured with large patterns, or green to resemble plant leaves. The pupa usually hangs from a plant, attached by a series of hooks at the rear end.4 The caterpillar will undergo the last stage of metamorphosis inside the chrysalis and mysteriously become an adult butterfly. Moths, however, will spin a softer cocoon in which to spend the pupa stage.

When the butterfly breaks out of its case, it does not immediately fly off into the sunlight. Its wings are limp and weak and not big enough to fly. The butterfly must pump blood into its wing veins, which make the wings expand to the right size and shape.5 The wings must also have time to dry and harden before the butterfly can make its maiden flight. The insects are particularly vulnerable to predators at this time.

As adults, butterflies feed on flowers’ nectar, mate, and reproduce. The life span of butterflies ranges from species to species, but on average their lives are short, spanning two to three weeks or less, and sometimes several months.6 Regardless of how long they survive, all butterflies are sun seekers. They do not have a controlled body temperature, and instead are influenced by air temperature, radiant heat of the sun, and muscular activity. Butterflies like to frequently bask in the sun to heat up their bodies, and they spread their wings out to absorb as much heat as possible.7
 


 

  1. Hicks, Laurel et al. Eds. “Science Order and Reality.” USA: A Beka Book. 1993. 446.
  2. “Butterfly life history” Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. http://www.cbif.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/lifehistory_e.php
  3. ”The Life Cycle” Victoria Butterfly Gardens. http://www.butterflygardens.com/butterflies.php
  4. “Butterfly life history” Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. http://www.cbif.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/lifehistory_e.php
  5. “Butterfly life history” Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. http://www.cbif.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/lifehistory_e.php
  6. ”The Life Cycle” Victoria Butterfly Gardens. http://www.butterflygardens.com/butterflies.php
  7. Hicks, Laurel et al. Eds. “Science Order and Reality.” USA: A Beka Book. 1993. 448.