The life cycle of a butterfly: Metamorphosis and all four stages

life cycle of a butterfly

The process through which a butterfly develops is called Metamorphosis, which means a change in shape. The life cycle of a butterfly is amazing and interesting as well. It goes through four stages and changes its shape in every cycle stage as young butterflies are very different from adult ones. 

The four-stage that butterflies go through include, 

  • Egg,
  • Larva( Caterpillar),
  • The pupa(Chrysalis),
  • The adult butterfly.

The life cycle of butterflies, bees, and flies is an example of Complete Metamorphosis.

Before understanding all 4 stages of a butterfly, let us first know the meaning of the life cycle of animals.

The life cycle of animals: The life cycle of any animal shows how they grow after birth and change their body shape over a while.

Now, let us understand step by the step life cycle of a butterfly:

Stages of a butterfly life cycle

Here we will discuss all 4 stages of a butterfly life cycle:

Here is an image that shows a stage of a butterfly’s life cycle:

  • Egg,
  • Larva( Caterpillar),
  • The pupa(Chrysalis),
  • The adult butterfly.

Now, let us discuss all four stages briefly:

Stage 1: Egg

It is the beginning of the life cycle of butterflies. It begins its life as a fertilized egg. Butterflies lay a lot of eggs, usually on the leaves or stems of plants; however, only some of them survive. The eggs may be too small to see and of different shapes like oval, spherical, or cylindrical.

The eggs of butterflies are surrounded by a thin layer called “chorion,” which is further surrounded by the layer of wax that prevents it from getting dry.

This first stage of the life cycle lasts for 3-7 days ( it depends on the butterfly species).

Stage 2: Larva or Caterpillar

 The larva or caterpillar hatches out from the egg. It is the second stage of the life cycle. The main work of larvae( plural of the larva is larvae) or caterpillars is to eat. They never stop eating to grow quickly.

The eating process starts from the eggshell, as caterpillars first eat the eggshell, then they eat the leaf where they were born. The mother butterfly lays her eggs on leaves that caterpillars can eat.

This way, caterpillars increase their body mass by 100 times their original size(birth size).

The step-by-step development of caterpillars is called INSTAR.

Then the stage comes where the outer layer of caterpillars, called CUTICLE, gets removed. And the process of this removal is called MOLTING or APOLYSIS. Caterpillars usually undergo 4 to 6 Moltings. The new skin underneath the outer skin is called Molting.

Stage 3: The Pupa or Chrysalis

The pupa or chrysalis is the third stage of the life cycle. IN this stage, the pupa hangs down in the area where it took birth. The body parts of caterpillars undergo gradual changes, a process called Metamorphosis. During this stage, inside the pupa, organs begin to form. The butterflies are fully formed inside the chrysalis in a couple of days. Slowly the chrysalis skin gets thinner, and the wings of butterflies come out. 

This stage may last for some days or more than one; it all depends on the butterfly species.

Stage 4: Adult butterfly: The Reproductive Stage

The adult butterfly is in the final stage of its life cycle. In this cycle stage, butterflies make their wings stronger by pumping and exerting a liquid called HEMOLYMPH to become stronger and bigger.

After this process, the butterfly is ready to take its first flight. This process usually lasts for a few hours.

As this is the life cycle stage, female butterflies will lay eggs on any leaf, and the life cycles start again.That is why this stage is called the reproductive stage.

Fantastic facts about butterflies:

  • About 16500 species of butterflies are present on the earth.
  • Butterflies do not taste from the mouth but their feet.
  • They require minerals to survive, so sometimes, they drink water from the mud puddles.
  • Butterflies can not fly in the cold.
  • The wings of butterflies are transparent.
  • Western pygmy blue is the smallest butterfly( 0.5 to 0.75 inches).
  • Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world(9.8 inches).
  • Palos Verdes blue is the rarest butterfly in the world.
  • Cabbage white is the most common butterfly in the world.

Some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long is the butterfly life cycle?

Time period of the life cycle varies from 30 days to 200 days(for the monarch).

Let us see by taking two example of different species of butterfly:

StagesMonarchGulf Fritillary
Egg4 days6 days 
Caterpillar stage15  days15  days
Chrysalis stage12  days8 days
Adult stage180 days21 days

How can you explain the life cycle of a butterfly to a child?

It can be defined as, when a butterfly is born it goes through four different cycles. 

  • Egg
  • Caterpillar stage
  • Chrysalis Stage
  • Adult Butterfly

Butterflies come out of the egg then become caterpillars, develop their organs in chrysalis and finally it becomes an adult butterfly. 

Why do butterflies die so fast?

Have you ever heard of the fact that most butterflies only        survive for approx 1-2 weeks? This is all because of the danger provided by the disease, automobiles, and predators. Monarch is a species of a butterfly which lives about  200 days.

How do butterflies die naturally?

Butterflies can not produce their own heat. If there is cold weather then butterflies can not move on their own and they die. Some butterflies hide their body under leaves while dying and some others just sit down with tight wings on grass or bushes.

Do butterflies sleep?

Adult butterflies rest in the night or when the day is cloudy by hanging down to the leaves.

Do butterflies migrate?

Some of the butterflies stick to their own home but some others including Monarch are migratory. They migrate from Canada and North America to Mexico, where they survive the winter. In spring, the adult butterflies return northward.


You have read about the life cycle of butterflies. You have seen how butterflies undergo 4 stages of the life cycle. As you have learned:

There are 4 stages of the butterfly life cycle that are,

  1. Butterflies lay eggs on leaves or stems.
  2. Caterpillars emerge from the hatched egg.
  3. Caterpillar’s body ogre develops inside the chrysalis.
  4. The adult butterflies develop and are ready to take their first flight.

We hope you understand the life cycle of butterflies in a very simple language.

Here we are mentioning some reference videos for your help:

In English

Life Cycle of a Butterfly – Butterfly Life Cycle

In hindi

तितली का जीवन चक्र || Butterfly Life Cycle Video || Life Cycle Of Butterfly In Hindi

For kids:

Caterpillar Shoes | Sweet rhyming bedtime story for kids!