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Life of the Butterfly

Life Stages of a Butterfly

Complete metamorphosis

The amount of time spent in each of the stages depends on the species of butterfly. Within each species there can also be variations depending on their food supply and weather conditions. Butterflies need two types of plants in a garden, nectar plants which the butterfly drinks, and host plants which is what the caterpillar eats. Most caterpillars are very picky about what type of plant they will eat.


Egg

Most butterfly eggs hatch within a week. Not all of them will survive to the butterfly stage.

Caterpillar (larvae)

The caterpillar grows very quickly. The caterpillars skin doesn’t grow with the caterpillar, it stretches. Once the skin gets too tight the caterpillar sheds its skin. Caterpillars shed their skin five times.

Chrysalis (pupae)

The last time the caterpillar sheds its skin it turns into a chrysalis. It is an amazing process to observe. Once it starts shedding its skin it only takes about one minute for the skin to drop off revealing a chrysalis underneath.

Butterfly

When the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis its wings are soft and wrinkled. It immediately starts pumping fluid from its body into its wings and within a few minutes it is fully formed. It will take an hour or more for the wings to harden enough for the butterfly to fly. Most butterflies live only a few weeks, but some butterflies can live up to a year.


Butterfly Behavior

Puddling

Some species of butterflies are often seen drinking water from puddles on the ground. This is called puddling, and it is done mostly by males. Males need extra salts and minerals which they pass on to the females when mating. The Red Admiral butterfly has often been observed landing on people to drink up their salty sweat!

Courtship

Male butterflies use a chemical called pheromones to lure the female for mating. If the female is receptive the male will clasp on to the female. Once coupled, a pair of butterflies can be seen swirling in the air together during their mating process. The process can take up to a few hours.

Basking

Butterflies are cold blooded animals and need the sun to warm them up. You will often see butterflies sitting motionless on a branch soaking up warmth from the sun. Butterflies need a temperature of at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit for them to be able to fly.

Egg laying

Many butterflies, like the monarch, lay one egg per plant. Other butterflies, like the mourning cloak, lay clusters of many eggs. The female butterfly will only lay her eggs on plants her caterpillars will eat.

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