Butterflies: Life Cycle of a Butterfly


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Butterflies are beautiful insects of nature and often admired for their vibrant colors. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, they belong to the biological order of Lepidoptera, and have distinct characteristics: slender bodies, knobbed antennae, and four wings (Dictionary.com). The Lepidoptera classification order is derived from Greek origin meaning “scales” and “wings” (Jeananda Col).

Butterflies are members of the insect family and their traits include 3 pairs of legs, a segmented body, and two pairs of wings. Although they are members of the insect family, and carry the same characteristics of other insects, butterflies generally appeal to people where most insects do not (Earthlife.net).

Why are butterflies so unique? One distinguishing reason can be found by exploring a butterfly’s life cycle. Butterflies go through the process of metamorphosis: a distinct transformation from an egg to a butterfly.


As a result of metamorphosis, butterflies go through a series of four, very distinct, life-type changes.

The four stages include: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

  • Egg Stage - the beginning of life for a butterfly. The egg is a product of adult reproduction and is deposited on tree leaves by a sticky hormonal substance from the adult.

  • Larva Stage - typical in appearance to a caterpillar. The majority of the larva’s lifespan is spent eating and the first meal is usually it’s own eggshell. As a result of continuous consumption, the butterfly will increase several thousand times in size. It will spin a silky pad before progressing to the next phase. It is not yet mature and it is unable to reproduce at this point.

  • Pupa Stage – resembles a tiny leathery pouch. A pupa is also known as a chrysalis, and is a result of “pupating”. In transforming from the larva stage, the butterfly breaks out of its exoskeleton by wiggling out of their skin. A spiny appendage appears at the bottom of the abdomen and is called the cremaster. The butterfly connects the cremaster to the silky pad and hangs there to rest. Many body parts are visible including the wings, abdomen, legs, and eyes.

  • Adult Stage – known as the adult butterfly.

    The time length of the development cycle of the butterfly varies from species to species and from climate to climate (Monarch Watch). There are more than 150,000 species recognized however most of these are moths.

    NOTE: All visuals have been removed to comply with publishing rules of this site.

    Additonal Resources

    Dictionary.com “The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition” Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin http://dictionary. reference.com/search?q=insect

    HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) “Where Do Butterflies Come From? http://www.hhmi.org/coolscience/butterfly/ 9/29/04

    Jeananda Col, “All About Butterflies” http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/butterfly/

    Monarch Watch 9/29/04 http://www.monarchwatch.org/biology/anat3.htm

    “The Lepidoptera Part 1. Butterflies” 9/29/04 http://www.earthlife.net/insects/lepidop1.html#3

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