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Butterfly Life Cycle

butterfly egg The first stage of a butterfly's life is a very small oval, round, or cylindrical egg, depending on the species of butterfly. Looking closely, it is sometimes possible to see the caterpillar growing inside. Butterfly eggs are most often found on the leaves of plants.

larva or caterpillar stage When the egg hatches, a "larva" or "caterpillar" emerges. The caterpillar must eat the leaf upon which the egg has been laid, so it is vital that the mother has chosen to lay her eggs on the right kind of leaf. Monarchs, for example, must lay eggs on plants of the milkweed family.

Caterpillars must grow quickly, to they eat continually. As they expand, their exoskelton does not stretch, so they shed their skin several times during the growth stage.

pupa or chrysalis stageWhen the caterpillar has reach its full size, they form into a "chrysalis", or "pupa". The transformation over time looks like a change from a resting caterpillar to a shell-like covering, Inside, the body is undergoing a transormation, or "metamorphosis". The parts we recognize as a butterfly are beginning to form. The limbs and organs have all transformed by the time the pupa is ready to emerge as a beautiful butterfly.

The butterfly head and thoraxThe adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis with its soft wings folded about its body. After a rest period, the butterfly pumps blood into its wings over period of a few hours, during which is begins to fly and search for a mate. Adult butterflies are constantly seeking to reproduce, and a fertilized female will find the proper type of leaf to lay aggs and start the life cycle over again.

Picture: the butterfly head and thorax.

Adult butterflys forewing and hindwingPicture: the adult butterfly's forewing and hindwing.