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The Life Cycle Of The Butterfly: Photos And Video

Updated on July 7, 2015

The Offcial Butterfly of Florida, the Zebra Longwing


Our Interest in the Butterfly

Can the butterfly fly as soon as it leaves the cocoon? That and many other questions will be answered as we explore the life cycle of the butterfly.

I live in Southern Florida where the climate is mild most of the year. I am able to grow flowers of all kinds year round. When my Grandchildren come to visit, they like to walk among the flowers. I try to teach them the different plants, and hope they will learn to appreciate the beauty of nature. After watching the beautiful butterflies hovering over some of the Pentas and the Butterfly Bushes, they asked me to tell them about the life cycle of the Butterfly, and I had to admit I have just always taken them for granted. They have always been in my yard fluttering around. I admire their beauty very much.

So, we set out to study the Butterfly. Do you think insects are beautiful? Some insects are pretty scary looking, like spiders. There is one insect that everyone thinks is very beautiful, that insect is the Butterfly. I never thought of the Butterfly as being an insect, but it is.

Butterflies live in warm climates. They feed on nectar from the flowers. There are plants that we can grow in our yards to attract these beautiful insects. One popular plant is called the Butterfly Bush, but they seem to like any red flower. We see them flying around our yard without giving too much thought to how they got there. Not only is the butterfly beautiful, but it is a subject worthy of study. The butterfly belongs to a group of insects calledLepidoptera. Lepidus means scales, and ptera means wings. When we think of scales, we think of fish, but the scales on a butterfly are very soft and delicate. If you touch a butterfly, the scales will come off like fine powder on your hand.

The caterpillar eventually weaves a silky cocoon (pupa) around itself for protection, and the Butterfly begins to develop inside the cocoon. The next time you see a cocoon hanging underneath a leaf on a plant, remember that a butterfly will soon emerge from the cocoon, and fly out into the world. When the butterfly first come out of it’s cocoon, the wings are soft and moist. Soon, the wings expand and harden so the butterfly will be able to fly.

A good way to study butterflies is to take a caterpillar and carefully place it in a glass jar with a metal lid that you have made air holes in the top. Use a stick to gently remove the caterpillar. Place some leaves of the same plant that you found the caterpillar on the inside of the jar. Add a few drops of water. Every day, place fresh leaves and water inside the jar. You can actually see the caterpillar weave it’s delicate cocoon. When you notice movement within the cocoon, you’ll know that soon the butterfly will emerge. As soon as his wings have dried, he is ready to be released into the world. This process usually takes two weeks, depending on the species of the Butterfly.

Video of a Monarch from start to finish

The Four Stages of the Butterfly

The butterfly goes through four distinct stages before finally appearing as one of nature’s most colorful, delicate creatures. The four stages are: egg, caterpillar (larva), cocoon (pupa), also called the Chrysalis, and finally the adult butterfly.

In the first stage, a mature butterfly lays her tiny, sticky egg on the leaf of a plant. The egg is sticky so it can’t fall off the leaf. If you can imagine, the egg is the size of the head of a straight pin. The eggs are protected by a hard-ridged outer layer of shell called the Chorion. This egg will soon become a caterpillar. It is hard to imagine this green caterpillar with it’s brightly marked, bold pattern will soon become a butterfly! Some of these caterpillars can be up to six inches long. Not all caterpillars are butterfly larvae. Some belong to the moth family. One caterpillar to avoid is the Saddleback Moth. He is green and has what looks to be a brown saddle on his back. If you touch him, you will feel a painful sting!

Magnified image of a Butterfly Egg


The Caterpillar


Gulf Fritillary Chrysalis, Georgetown, S.C.


A Monarch Butterfly


A Brand New Monarch Drying Its Wings On The Blue Orchid


There are many butterfly gardens around the country. These are beautiful places to visit. Once inside the garden, you will see butterflies flying around the plants that have been placed there for them. They may stop and rest on your shoulder if you are still. These gardens have an exhibit so you can actually see each stage of the butterfly’s creation. It is such a thrill to see a cocoon begin to move, and then you see an opening in the cocoon. The final thrill will come when the butterfly emerges and flies out to join the others in the garden.

My Grandchildren and I have visited many Butterfly Gardens. We have watched these beautiful insects evolve through each stage by placing caterpillars in a jar and just observing them. We are always thrilled to see the magnificent insect begin life. I would encourage parents and grandparents alike to help children understand more about the beautiful Butterfly.

Do you love and appreciate the Butterfly?

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