Butterfly Life-Cycle

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Butterfly Life-Cycle

By Fluttertime

Butterflies are one of the most unique animals on earth. Few other species go through such a startling metamorphosis as do the butterflies. Much research has been done about the stages of a butterflies life but the exact processes involved in the final transformation to an adult are still somewhat of a mystery.

Butterfly Life-Cycle

The butterfly life cycle starts when the female lays her eggs usually on the underside of the host plant that will become food for her young catepillars. How many eggs are laid vary dependent on what species, but normally the female lays only one egg on each leaf. The eggs are very small (slightly larger than the head of a pin) and are usually whitish in color. It takes about a week untill the eggs hatch and the catepillar emerges. Immediately after hatching, the caterpillar is so small it can barely be seen. The first instinct of a new catepillar is to eat. Even before it begins eating the leaves of the host plant, it first consumes the pupa or chrysalis that was previously its home. During the early stages catepillars grow very fast. It only takes on average about 9 to 14 days to reach over 2" in length.

This rapid growth creates a problem for the catepillar. As it grows, it stretches its skin to the limit and must shed its skin much like snakes do when their body has outgrown the skin. Caterpillars shed their skin four or five times during the larval stage. A new, larger skin is always growing under the one that is shed.

When the caterpillar is full grown it usually leaves its host plant. It crawls (sometimes 30 or 40 feet away) until it finds a safe place to pupate. The caterpillar makes a silk-like mat and then attaches its last pair of legs to the mat. The caterpillar allows itself to drop and then hangs there, upside down in a J-shape, for about one full day.

The caterpillar's skin is shed for the last time as it passes from the larval (caterpillar) stage to the pupa (chrysalis) stage of metamorphosis. Under the caterpillar's skin this time is a jade green casing which is called a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, which is only about an inch long, the caterpillar will miraculously transform into a beautiful butterfly.

Immediately after the skin is shed, the chrysalis is very soft. Within an hour though, it hardens to become a protective shell for the caterpillar inside. The mouth parts must go from being those required for chewing (what the caterpillar needed to eat leaves) to what a butterfly will need: a straw-like tongue used for sipping nectar from flowers. And a creepy, crawling insect will become a flying insect, one of the most beautiful insects on earth!

Double-click play to see a Monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. 56k modem users please be patient.
Double-click to see a Monarch butterfly pumping its wings after emerging. 56k modem users please be patient.

With no visible signs to signal the emergence of the butterfly from its chrysalis, the chrysalis suddenly cracks open and out comes the butterfly. Its wings are tiny, crumpled, and wet. The butterfly clings to its empty chrysalis shell as hemolymph, the blood-like substance of insects, is pumped through its body. As the hemolymph fills the butterflies body and wings, they enlarge. The butterfly is extremely vulnerable to predators at this stage because it is not yet able to fly.

About one hour after emerging from its chrysalis, its wings are full-sized, dry, and ready for flying. Four to six days after emerging from its chrysalis, a butterfly is old enough to mate.....and so begins the life cycle of the next generation.



All of the butterflies used in our butterfly frames are inspected by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and we never use endangered species. Each framed butterfly comes from butterfly farms located around the world mostly from ranching operations in South America, South East Asia, Africa and the Amazon River basin.

These butterfly farms provide the native peoples with an excellent source of income and prevent them from destroying the rainforest to clear cut land for cattle raising and logging.

For more information on how the farms are helping to revitalize rainforest habitat, please click on the
Butterfly Farms menu link.

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