Life Cycle of a Butterfly
The butterfly develops through a process called 'metamorphosis', which is the Greek word for transformation or change in shape. There are four stages in the metamorphosis of butterflies post mating: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
In the first stage, eggs are laid on plants by the adult female butterfly. These plants commonly referred to as "food plants" will then become the food for the hatching caterpillars. Eggs can be laid from spring, summer or fall. This depends on the species of butterfly. Females lay a lot of eggs at once so that at least some of them survive. Typically, butterfly eggs are very small.
The next stage is the larva. This is also called a caterpillar if the insect is a butterfly or a moth. The job of the caterpillar is to eat and eat and eat. As the caterpillar grows it splits its skin and sheds it about 4 or 5 times. Food eaten at this time is stored and used later as an adult. Caterpillars can grow 100 times their size during this stage.
When the caterpillar is full grown and stops eating, it becomes a pupa, also called a chrysalis. Depending on the species, the pupa may suspend itself under a branch, hidden in leaves or buried underground. This stage can last from a few weeks, a month or even longer. Some species have a pupal stage that lasts for two years. In this stage of the cycle special cells that were present in the larva begin to grow rapidly. They will become the legs, wings, eyes and other parts of the adult butterfly while many of the original larval cells provide the energy for these growing adult cells.
The final adult stage is what most people think of when they think of butterflies. They look very different from the larva. The caterpillar's job was to eat. The adult's job is to mate and lay eggs. Some species of adult butterflies get energy by feeding on nectar from flowers but many species don't feed at all. Soon after emerging the adult butterflies take flight and find a mate and the cycle begins anew. Most adult butterflies live only one or two weeks, but some species hibernate during the winter and may live several months.