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Animals and Lifecycles - Lifecycle of a Butterfly (Arthropod)

Lifecycle of a butterfly


An adult male butterfly looks for a female. If the female accepts the male they couple, or mate, and may fly together for a while. The male passes a sperm packet into the female’s body, near to her eggs. A sperm cell fertilizes each egg as the female lays it.

The eggs are laid on a plant that the young caterpillar, or larva will eat. Different species of butterflies lay one or more eggs, but many lay one egg on the underside of a leaf. This protects the egg and the leaf is easy-to-reach food. Each egg is white and very small, about the size of a pin-head.

Larva or caterpillar

The egg grows over a few days and a dark spot appears inside it. This is the head of a tiny caterpillar or larva. The caterpillar hatches, eats the rest of the egg, and then eats the leaf. The caterpillar has six legs and a tiny jaw for chewing plant food. It hides in the plant during the day to escape predators, and moves around at night to feed.

Holding on to the plant is easy. A special liquid drips out from under the caterpillar’s head and turns into silk threads in the air. The threads stick to the plant like a thin harness while the caterpillar moves around. Caterpillars from some species drop off a leaf and hang underneath if ants or other predators get too close.

The caterpillar eats and grows fast for about 9 to 14 days. Its skin stretches and then sheds and this happens four or five times. There is always a new, bigger skin growing under the one that comes off. The caterpillar is about 5 cm (2 inches) long when fully grown.

Then it crawls away from the plant it’s been living on and finds a safe place, often on a tree branch. Some caterpillars crawl 9 to 12 metres (30 to 40 feet).

Caterpillar with silk-like buttonThe caterpillar’s body makes more of the silk-like liquid and turns this into a “button” or “anchor” placed between its head and the branch.

This is the start of the pupa or chrysalis stage.

Lifecycle of a butterfly part 2>>