Butterflies at Home



Butterfly Life Cycle

How does the butterfly transition from an egg to an adult?

The Butterfly Life Cycle: A Circle of Life

The butterfly life cycle consists of four stages of metamorphosis:

  • Egg - A butterfly starts life as a very small, round, oval or cylindrical egg laid by a female on the leaf of a "host plant." A female butterfly typically lays up to 500 eggs, depending on species.
  • Larva (caterpillar) - once the egg hatches, the larva eats the host plant on which it was placed. As the larva grows, they "molt" several times, becoming larger through each step, or "instar". 
  • Pupa (chrysalis) - as the larva reaches its full size, it transforms itself into a sack in which it will make the final transformation into an adult. Depending on the species, this stage may last for several days, weeks or even months.
  • Adult butterfly - emerges from the pupa after a number of days, and usually hangs upside down while its wings dry. When the wings are dried, the adult butterfly begins the hunt for a mate, and the life cycle repeats!

Life Cycle of Some Common Butterflies

Shown below are highlights of the life cycle of three common butterfly species: The Monarch, Gulf Fritillary and Eastern Black Swallowtail.

The butterfly life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adultButterflies at Home

 

Gulf Fritillary Life Cycle: Stages and Timings

Stage Duration
Egg stage 4 to 8 days
Caterpillar (larval) stage 2 to 3 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage 5 to 10 days
Adult butterfly stage 2 to 4 weeks
Female Gulf Fritillary Butterfly hanging upside down on Passion Vine laying eggs
Female Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Passion Vine laying eggs
Growing Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on a Passion Vine
Growing Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on a Passion Vine
Gulf Fritillary caterpillar in the classic "J Position" preparing to enter its chrysalis
Gulf Fritillary caterpillar in the classic "J Position" preparing to enter its chrysalis
The end of the life cycle: an adult Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on a Pink Zinnia in East Texas - October 17, 2016

 

 

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle
Stage Typical Duration
Egg stage Generally 4 to 6 days
Caterpillar (larval) stage 2 to 3 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage 5 to 15 days
Adult butterfly stage 2 to 5 weeks for the summer generations, but the over-wintering generation in Mexico can live several months
Monarch Butterfly caterpillars ... nearing maturity
Monarch Butterfly caterpillars ... nearing maturity
Monarch caterpillar in the "J" Position"
Monarch caterpillar in the "J" position, tail attached to a Milkweed leaf
Monarch Butterfly caterpillar in its chrysalis ... carefully blending with nature!
Monarch Butterfly caterpillar in its chrysalis ... carefully blending with nature!
A beautiful new Monarch Butterfly ... minutes after eclosing from 10 days in its chrysalis
A beautiful new Monarch Butterfly ... minutes after emerging from 10 days in its chrysalis
A lovely adult Monarch Butterfly!
Monarch Butterfly


Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: Overview and Timings

Stage Typical Duration
Egg stage Generally 4 to 10 days, depending on temperature and host plant
Caterpillar (larval) stage 3 to 4 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage 10 to 20 days (except for overwintering pupae)
Adult butterfly stage 6 to 14 days
Black Swallowtail caterpillar lunching on dill
Black Swallowtail caterpillar dining on dill
Black Swallowtail chrysalis ... hanging by a silk thread
Black Swallowtail chrysalis hanging by a thread
A Black Swallowtail butterfly ecloses from its chrysalis, on March 27, 2014, after overwintering
The first Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on March 27, 2014, after overwintering