Butterflies Life Cycle – Complete Metamorphosis

Butterflies Life Cycle - Complete Metamorphosis

Butterflies’ cute, tiny, and pretty flying organism is not what it looks like at the early stages of growth. The radical life cycle of a butterfly shows complete metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis is a complex biological transformation that involves physical changes in an animal’s body structure, which involves 2 or 3 stages.     

Besides butterflies, many other organisms undergo a metamorphosis during development. But observing and exploring peculiarities in the life cycle of a butterfly is astonishing. 

Butterflies Life Cycle

There is a lot more than ordinary metamorphosis. Let’s explore each stage deeply.

Metamorphosis Of Butterfly- Life Cycle of a Butterfly

The life cycle of a butterfly has 4 stages. In each stage, the butterfly goes through a series of complex changes internally and externally.

Do you know how long it takes to become an adult butterfly?

Period Of Butterfly Life Cycle

The butterfly spends most of its life span in growth and development. The metamorphosis occurs in 28-30 days; for some exceptional kinds, it takes up to 6 months. At the same time, an average butterfly lives for 2-4 weeks. However,  some notable species live up to 2 years but hibernate in winter. In conclusion, an average butterfly spends more time in growth than adulthood.

Butterfly Life Cycle Days

Before we discuss butterflies’ life cycle stages in detail, let’s briefly overview the span dedicated to each stage. The chart below is based on researched butterflies’ life cycle facts.

ButterflyEgg stageCaterpillar stagePupa stageAdult stage
Monarch (migrating)4 days15 days12 days180 days
Painted Lady4 days10 days10 days14 days
Southern White5 days18 days10 days21 days
Gulf Fritillary6 days15 days8 days21 days
Zebra Longwing8 days10 days8 days20 days
Orange Julia7 days8 days6 days21 days
Red Admiral10 days21 days10 days15 days
Buckeye10 days21 days10 days13 days

Life Cycle Of Butterfly With Days

4 Stages Of Butterfly

Looking at the chart above, you can easily see that the longer the developing stage shorter the adult phase span of the organism. However, there are some exceptions.

So, let’s start with the first stage of butterfly development.

Stage 1-Egg Phase

What Is The First Stage Of The Life Cycle Of a Butterfly? Lymph or eggs? Just like most insects, the first stage is the Egg stage. Female adult butterflies lay eggs on the food-loaded plant parts. After mating, the female butterflies start looking for rich plants as subsequent stage survival depends on food availability. 

Strange Fact: Once the egg hatches, the egg shell becomes the caterpillar’s first meal providing essential nutrients.

Stage 2- Larval Phase- Caterpillar

Caterpillar is a worm-like insect with legs, an abdomen, a head, and a thorax. During the caterpillar phase, the only job of an organism is to eat as much as possible. It also crawls and munches on leaves and plants. Even stems and fruits can be a favorite feed of caterpillars.

The extreme level of a feed helps caterpillars thrive in size. Nevertheless, it sheds skin (exoskeleton) 4 to 5 times during the larval phase, called molting.

Caterpillar is also called an “eating machine” because it continuously munches on leaves and eats eggshells. Consequently, it proliferates and saves a nutrient-loaded package for the next dormancy stage.

4 Stages Of Butterfly

Stage 3-  Pupa Stage

the pupa or chrysalis stage is a dormant stage of butterflies’ metamorphosis. However, a series of changes occur within the encasement of the pupa. But it’s not prominent outside.

Do you want to know how this transition occurs from caterpillar to pupa?

  • At first, the caterpillar finds a safe spot and molts for the last time.
  • Caterpillar starts creating a silk mat from the bottom of the body.
  • Afterward, the caterpillar spins the strings all over the body, making an encasement.
  • At last, the string is tied to the upper side with the branch or resting space.
  • Now the most exciting event initiates at this point. The caterpillar starts secreting the juices that dissolve most of its body. Now the liquid in the encasement is also called “ caterpillar soup.”

Emerging Butterfly Phase

The butterfly’s emerging phase is the last step of metamorphosis, where the new parts start to develop. The new parts are ;

  • Eyes
  • Wings
  • Legs
  • Mouthparts
  • Genitalia

Fun Fact

Do you remember the different spans of each stage for distinctive specie?  You must have noticed the life span of the pupas is quite distinctive to each specie. The life span of the pupa may last from a few weeks to years, depending on the specie and the immediate occurrence of the organism.

Adult Butterfly

The Adult butterflies emerge from the pupa (encasement). At first, the wings are crumpled. It crawled out of the case using its legs and kept the wings straight. Gradually the body fluids reach the veins in the wings. Once the fluid reaches the wing veins, it inflates and becomes erect.

For a few hours, the butterfly’s leaves are wet and soft. Therefore, the butterfly cannot take its first flight for a few hours. Another fascinating fact about the specie is its mission right after acquiring the adult butterfly shape is to find food and mate. 

Reproduction and Mating

The butterfly feed also is unique and has lots of fascinating facts. Such as male butterflies have slightly different feeds than their female counterparts. Usually, male butterflies are found around the dung sites and are fed. The reason is passing the package loaded with minerals when mating.

Isn’t it interesting! Let’s uncover more about the reproduction of adult butterflies.

Courtship Dance

The pheromones are the hormones produced in the male butterflies which imitate sexual desires. Although family communicates through color and sound yet, for selecting a suitable mate, male butterflies perform some specie and unique gestures to convince their female counterparts.

The gestures are known as “ courtship dance.” The male butterfly starts to fly around the female butterflies. Both genders have selection criteria. Males mostly judge their partners by color and smell. A female butterfly judges the mating partner based on acrobatics and courtship dance.

The apparent reason is finding a suitable mate to retain the progeny with solid genes. The strength of male and exclusive patterns from females is the ultimate goal behind selective mating.

Specie Sustaining Strategies

The butterfly’s life cycle starts after the females lay eggs and conclude at the females laying the egg. Most butterflies die after laying eggs, whereas males mostly die after mating. Hence, both male and female butterflies ensure the survival of the species.

Some species use quantitative measures and lay multiple eggs at a time. In contrast, some species are very selective in mating and finding the right spot to lay eggs. Prior believes in quantitative measures and usually has a short adult span. In comparison, other species have a long time to select the right mating partner for finding the perfect spot to lay an egg.

Specie Sustaining Strategies

Wrapping Up!

Nature’s unique creation of butterflies has an even more astonishing life cycle. Observing butterflies’ life cycle is fun loaded activity and helps children learn about the specie interestingly.

The survival of the spice is the ultimate goal throughout the life cycle. However, the natural success rate could be higher due to multiple hurdles. Most of the eggs become feed for other insects. Similarly, the caterpillar is also vulnerable to dangers. However, caterpillars have unique behavior of passing a smell that repels predators. Still, the organism is on the verge of life-threatening occurrence.


  1. How long is the life cycle of a butterfly?

The span of butterflies’ life cycle is exclusive to its specie. Moreover, it also depends on the conditions and surroundings. The life cycle of some species is mentioned in the table above.

  • What are the 4 life cycles of a butterfly?

The 4 stages of a butterflies life cycle have an individual development process. It Starts from an egg that hatches to become a caterpillar. The caterpillar has a unique life cycle until it becomes a pupa. Finally, before turning into an adult butterfly, it undergoes several changes.

  • What is the life cycle of a butterfly pattern?

The butterflies growth pattern is unique, with 4 stages of complete metamorphosis. The complete metamorphosis is egg, larva as a caterpillar, pupa as a chrysalis, and adult butterfly, either male or female.

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