Life cycle of butterflies

The Insecta class is the most abundant not only of arthropods, but in general of the rest of the species found on the planet. Within this group we find order of the Lepidoptera, in which we have butterflies and moths. Moths and butterflies are characterized by having membranous wings with overlapping scales, a sucking mouthpart and glands for the production of silk, in which they will form their cocoons, a structure that is an essential part of their reproductive life cycle..

In this AnimalWised article, we want to offer you information about the butterfly life cycle, these beautiful and fragile insects that are an important part of the biosphere.

You may also be interested in: Flies life cycle Index
  1. How long does a butterfly live?
  2. The reproduction of butterflies
  3. States of the butterfly life cycle and its characteristics

How long does a butterfly live?

The lifetime of an adult butterfly is a variable aspect because it is related to various factors, such as:

  • The type of butterfly.
  • Exposure to predators.
  • The environmental conditions where it is born.
  • Human influence on them.

Generally, a larger butterfly can have a longer life span than a smaller one, since it manages to resist or avoid certain impacts with greater strength than smaller ones, being its 1 year average life time.

The smaller and more fragile butterflies, on the other hand, usually live a few days or a week, while others can reach the month of life. However, among the small butterflies, some of the longest-lived are the butterfly Nymphalis antiopa and the Danaus plexippus, which manage to live several months. Some specimens have even managed to reach almost a year of life.

The reproduction of butterflies

The life cycle of butterflies begins with mating. The reproductive process of butterflies begins with the courtship of the male. Through flights, it will proceed to release pheromones to attract the female. If she is willing to reproduce, she will also release pheromones to communicate to the male.

Like other animals in the animal kingdom, butterflies are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females are visually different. In fact, males achieve identify females by the colors and shapes of their wings.

On the other hand, butterflies are oviparous animals with internal fertilization, so once they unite their abdomens, the male introduces his sexual organ inside the female and releases the spermatophore, which is a capsule that contains sperm. Afterwards, she can keep them inside until she finds the ideal plant for oviposition, in which will expel the eggs that will be fertilized before going abroad.

This form of reproduction has given the females the possibility of choosing the time and place to release the eggs, which guarantees that they are deposited in the plant where they will have greater protection during the development of the embryos and, in addition, this plant is highly palatable food for caterpillars thatwhich will be generated. There are also other mechanisms for the protection of their embryos, so that some species of butterflies lay their eggs in a dispersed way in several plants, while others do so en masse in the same place..

In general, the reproductive strategies of the butterfly vary between the different species, so that some can copulate in flight, while others do so on a substrate..

For more information, do not hesitate to consult this other AnimalWised article about ¿How butterflies reproduce?

States of the butterfly life cycle and its characteristics

The life cycle of the butterfly is made up of four phases. The first three stages last between 30 and 120 days, which will depend on both the species and the environmental conditions. Let's know the characteristics of each phase of the butterfly life cycle:


Some butterflies lay their eggs on various types of plants, while others do so more specifically. The same vary in size and color dDepending on the species and, generally, once a plant is used for oviposition, other butterflies will not use it, probably in order to avoid competition between caterpillars.

The eggs can be laid individually or in groups and if the environmental conditions are not favorable, the butterfly will avoid laying them, since this is the stage of greatest vulnerability for these animals, they are also susceptible to predation by other species. This phase can last a few days or several weeks.

Larva or caterpillar

Individuals in this phase are commonly known as caterpillars and starts when it hatches from the egg, consisting at a time mainly for the nutrition of the larva from the consumption of the leaves of the plant, since must store reservations for later stages.

The larvae are covered in a chitin exoskeleton that provides protection and, as in the egg stage, some species of caterpillars are kept in groups, while others are alone. In the first case, this gives them advantages such as thermoregulation, defense against natural enemies and cooperation for the consumption of the leaves that can be difficult if they do it individually. In the second they are less exposed to attack by parasites and predators, as well as to competition for food..

Within the larval stage, this animal in turn passes through a period consisting of four to seven phases, which are known as instar or stage of development, and the number of phases will depend on the species of butterfly. As the caterpillar must grow, in each of these stages or instar the exoskeleton is changing. Before starting the next phase, reduce food consumption and prepare for the next transformation.

Chrysalis or pupa

Also called pupa or colloquially "cocoon ", it is a phase in which the animal remains fixed in a place that it has chosen, but also great transformations occur in the same through metamorphosis.

Butterflies have developed adaptive strategies at this stage, so pupae have particular shapes and colors that make them go almost unnoticed in the places where they are fixed. This stage can also last several days, but as in the previous ones it will depend on the species.


It is the final stage of the life cycle of butterflies, emerging from the fully developed and sexually mature pupa, so they can now reproduce. Coming out of the chrysalis, the individual is moistened, but once it spreads its wings and dries up, it is able to fly.

The adults they feed differently than in the caterpillar phase. In this case, they do it from nectar, pollen and fermenting fruits, in any case, they require nutrients rich in sugar that provide them with the necessary energy to carry out their flights..

Butterflies are quite susceptible animals, since they are not only exposed to their natural predators, but environmental conditions play a determining role for them. In addition, in the cases of species that select particular plants to lay their eggs, they are at greater risk if these plants are no longer present in their habitat, since not only the place for their development is being eliminated, but also their source of food..

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