Butterfly Lifecycle

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Introduction

Butterflies are a vibrant, beautiful, and diverse group of insects belonging to the order Lepidoptera. The word- Lepidoptera refers to scaly wings in Greek which also means an insect. The scales and patterns in butterflies are very different and make them appear so attractive and pretty. Belonging to the family of insects, butterflies also start their life from a small egg. But it goes through various stages looking very different in every stage to attain adulthood through the process of metamorphosis. Transformation of a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly through metamorphosis is one of the most amazing transitions in nature.

We will learn more about the various stages of metamorphosis in the lifecycle of a butterfly in this chapter.


Metamorphosis

The biological process seen in some animals, insects, amphibians and a few aquatic organisms by which they develop physically after birth going through a few abrupt stages of development is known as metamorphosis. The organism looks distinctly different at different stages of the metamorphosis. It is a phase in which organisms undergo extreme and rapid physical changes to develop into adults. At the end of metamorphosis, organisms look completely different. In the various stages of metamorphosis, enzymes and blood cells mature, in the body of an organism, and remodeling of their nervous and digestive systems also occur. Butterflies are also insects that develop by metamorphosis.


Metamorphosis in Butterflies

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Butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis to transform into an adult.  The distinctive stages of metamorphosis include the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult stages. It appears to vary differently at different stages of the metamorphosis.


Stages of Metamorphosis in Butterflies

An adult butterfly is also referred to as an Imago. Its physical features include the presence of compound eyes, two antennas, and dust-like scales and patterns on the wings and legs. The scales of butterflies come off when touched.


Stage 1- The Egg

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The female butterfly lays eggs on open surfaces like leaves of plants, flowers, stems, etc. The eggs are oval or cylindrical, small, and of different colors. The shape, features, and color of the eggs depend upon the butterfly that lays it. The larvae grow inside these eggs, which are also called the caterpillars. Caterpillars of Monarch butterflies can even be seen from outside the eggs if looked closely. The hatching of eggs depends on the outside conditions, which means they hatch when the external conditions are favorable. The eggs hatch faster in warm weather conditions while they may take weeks to hatch if the weather is too cold.


Stage 2- The Caterpillar or Larvae Stage

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After the eggs hatch, in the larvae stage, all that the caterpillar has to do is eat. It eats all day all night. It eats grass, leaves, stems, or other plant parts, and even the leaf it is born on to gain 1000 times its birth weight. While the caterpillars double in size and weight, their skin or the exoskeleton does not grow or stretch to make room for the growing body. Instead, it has to shed its outer skin several times. The caterpillar phase may extend from weeks to years depending upon the type of butterfly.


Stage 3- The Pupa or Chrysalis Stage

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The third phase is the most iconic phase in a butterfly's life cycle. In this phase, the caterpillar after reaching its full body weight and length, or when it's done growing, develops a bulbous structure around it, called the pupa. In this stage, it creates an exterior hardcover around it. The cover also called chrysalis covers and protects the pupa inside. It protects it until it grows into a butterfly and breaks it open and comes out.


Stage 4- The Adult

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The adult stage is the most prominent and known stage in a butterfly lifecycle. It is the phase when the pupa transforms into a beautiful butterfly with attractive and vibrant scaly wings and breaks open the hard outside covering to come out of the cocoon-like structure. Its wings are folded against the body in the beginning. It has to pump blood into its wings to open it. Thus, it flies away looking for food and a mate to reproduce.

When the female adult butterfly mates, it lays its eggs again in the open, and the life cycle repeats.


Points to Remember

  • Butterflies live for a few weeks on an average.

  • They can’t fly in the beginning and also when they are cold.

  • They are cold-blooded insects and need external warmth to stay warm and survive.

  • When butterflies are cold, they spread their wings on the leaf, the pile of mud, and rocks to acquire body heat.

  • They survive on an all-liquid diet.

  • They also get essential nutrients by drinking from mud puddles.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Metamorphosis?

The biological process is seen in some animals, insects, amphibians and a few aquatic organisms by which they develop physically after birth going through a few abrupt stages of development is known as metamorphosis. The organism looks distinctly different at different stages of the metamorphosis. It is a phase in which organisms undergo extreme and rapid physical changes to develop into adults.

2. How Does Metamorphosis Occur in Butterflies?

Butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis to transform into an adult.  The distinctive stages of metamorphosis include the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult stages. It appears very different at different stages of the metamorphosis.

3. Explain the Egg to Larvae Stage of the Butterfly

The female butterfly lays eggs on open surfaces like leaves of plants, flowers, stems, etc. The eggs are oval or cylindrical, small, and of different colors. The shape, features, and color of the eggs depend upon the butterfly that lays it. The larvae grow inside these eggs, which are also called the caterpillars. The hatching of eggs depends on the outside conditions, which means they hatch when the external conditions are favorable. The eggs hatch faster in warm weather conditions while they may take weeks to hatch if the weather is too cold.

4. Explain the Pupa Stage to the Adult Stage of the Butterfly

The third phase is the most iconic phase in a butterfly lifecycle. In this phase, the caterpillar after reaching its full body weight and length, or when it's done growing, develops a bulbous structure around it, called the pupa. In this stage, it creates an exterior hardcover around it. The cover also called chrysalis covers and protects the pupa inside. It protects it until it grows into a butterfly and breaks it open and comes out.