life cycle of a butterfly

This botany lesson is designed for 3 to 6-year-old children. It guides through the life cycle of a butterfly practically.

Life Cycle of Butterfly (Metamorphosis)

A butterfly is an insect, and its life cycle is called metamorphosis. In this process, the butterfly and moth develop and transform into another shape and size. Metamorphosis is a Greek word that means transformation or change in shape.

Insects have two common types of metamorphosis. One is called incomplete metamorphosis. The young ones look like small adults, but with no wings. For example, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, and cockroaches.

The other one is called complete metamorphosis. The young ones are called larvae instead of lymph and look very different from adults. They usually eat different food than adults. For example, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and bees.

What are the Stages of the Life Cycle of a Butterfly?

The four stages of a monarch butterfly’s life cycle are:

  1. Eggs
  2. Caterpillar (Larva)
  3. Pupa (Chrysalis)
  4. Adult

Each of the four stages is unique to individual species of butterflies. As shown in the video, the real-life transformation of the four stages of the butterfly makes it a fun and exciting experience for the children.

The Butterfly Egg

The Adult butterfly usually lays 200-500 eggs on the host plant, which vary in shape and size depending upon the species. These host plants then become food for the species. Usually, this stage lasts 3-7 days, while others may take as long as three weeks depending on different species. 

At the end of this stage, a caterpillar hatches from the egg. 

Fun fact: Female butterflies lay a lot of eggs at once, but not all eggs survive. These eggs are very very small.

The Caterpillar or the Larva

This stage is also called the feeding stage because the job of the caterpillar or the larva is to eat, eat, and eat. Butterfly caterpillars spend between two and five weeks in this stage based on their species and growth conditions. Each time a caterpillar eats leaves, its appearance will change. 

As the caterpillar eats, their body grows, its skin becomes tight and eventually it splits its skin and sheds it about 4 or 5 times, revealing new skin beneath. This is called molting. During this stage, all the food eaten is stored and used later as an adult.

Fun fact about caterpillars:Note: The first meal for caterpillars is the eggshell, which provides them with important nutrients. They are also known as “eating machines.” Before it begins to pupate, it will increase its body mass thousands of times. Some caterpillars eat stems, roots, fruits, seeds, seed pods, or flowers, in addition to leaves. In this stage, caterpillars can grow 100 times their size during this stage. As shown in the video, a monarch butterfly egg is the size of a pinhead, and the caterpillar it produces is not much bigger and grows up to 2 inches long in several weeks.

The Chrysalis or the Pupa

When a caterpillar reaches its maximum growth, it finds a protected spot to molt for the last time. It also forms an encasement which they metamorphose. Caterpillar makes a silk mat and attaches itself at the base. To hold the chrysalis in place, they spun a string of silk around their bodies and tied it to the branch. 

The butterfly will remain in the chrysalis for about 1-2 weeks before emerging out of it.  

From the outside, it may look like nothing is happening inside the pupa, but during this time, the caterpillar releases digestive juices. These juices break down most of its body into a “tissue cell soup”. It helps develops four wings, new legs, new eyes, new mouthparts, and genitalia. When the insect emerges, its metamorphosis is complete. It also helps provide energy to the growing cells of butterflies.

Fun fact about pupa: The pupa stage can last from a few weeks to a month, or even as long as 2 years depending on the species.

The Adult Butterfly

The adult butterfly is the last stage in the life cycle of a butterfly. 

As shown in the video, when a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis, its wings are crumpled, so just crawls out. The butterfly will hang with its wings upside down until fluids from its body straighten them out. Its wings are inflated by pumping fluid into the wing veins. 

When the wings are at this stage, they are very soft and wet, and it may take up to two hours for the butterfly/moth to dry them. Before flying, the wings are stretched, dried, and hardened. Once the wings are completely formed, the adult butterfly flies off to feed, find a mate, and begin the cycle again.

A butterfly’s life span is usually between two and three weeks but can last up to 11 months depending on its species.

Experiencing the life cycle of a butterfly is an excellent source of entertainment and education for children. 

How Long is the Life Cycle of a Butterfly?

The life cycle of a butterfly varies from 30 days to over 200 days. 

Fascinating Facts About Butterflies

  • There are almost 20,000 butterfly species.
  • On average, an adult butterfly lives for around two to three weeks,
  • One of the largest butterflies is the Giant Swallowtail.
  • They actually have four wings, not two.
  • They use their feet to taste.

Watch the video to learn more about the life cycle of a butterfly and enjoy some lively moments with your children.

Related Resources:

  1. The Coming of Life
  2. Leaf with Nature Walk
  3. Different Ways of Combining

To watch more science video lessons, click here.

Video Created by: Sharmeen Niazi

FAQs : 

  • What do children learn from the life cycle of a butterfly?

Children learn about the evolution of butterfly by studying how they grow from eggs to adults and how this process continues as a cycle. 

  • What are the 4 stages of the butterfly?

Butterflies are insects that undergo a metamorphosis, which is one of the most beautiful and amazing transformations in nature during their life cycle. 

An adult butterfly goes through four major stages to metamorphose. These are egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult.

  • What is the life cycle of a butterfly called?

The life cycle of a butterfly is called metamorphosis. It is taken from a Greek word that means transformation or change in shape.


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