Metamorphosis, Transformation of a Caterpillar

Let's start at the beginning... How do butterflies become butterflies?  What the world is metamorphosis?

The process or changes of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly or moth is a called metamorphosis. 

All butterflies and moths go through the same stages of transformation...

Stages of Butterfly Life Cycle

  1. Egg
  2. Caterpillar or Larva
  3. Pupa also known as chrysalis or cocoon
  4. Butterfly or moth


Stage 1: The egg

All butterflies and moths start out as an egg. Eggs are laid by adult females and are typically found on the underside of leaves. The female butterfly will use her instincts to select the best looking plants or food source for her offspring. 

Egg on leaf

The eggs will hatch anywhere from a few days to few weeks depending on the type of caterpillar and the weather conditions. The caterpillar will eat its way out of the egg  to start its new journey. 

Caterpillar hatching

Stage 2: Larvae or Caterpillar

These little guys spend most of their time eating. Caterpillars can eat a lot! Caterpillars eat leaves, each caterpillar has their leaf of choice...from milkweed to dill and cabbage.

When they are not eating they spend their time hiding from predators, resting and growing. These little guys are growing so fast!  Caterpillars go through 5 growing stages called "instars". 

Caterpillar Instars

"Instar" stages are the number of times the caterpillars shed their skin They have to shed to allow more "room" for growth. Depending on the type of caterpillar, and weather the caterpillar will grow to full size in about 9-14 days.

Monarch caterpillar growth & Monarch butterfly

When the caterpillar is finally full the caterpillar will find a nice spot to transform.  The caterpillar will shed its skin one more time. This time the new skin will be chrysalis. 

Monarch caterpillar ready to form chrysalis.

Monarch caterpillar forming chrysalis

Stage 3: Chrysalis or Pupa

It is the last stage of  the metamorphosis process. The caterpillar is undergoing an amazing transformation inside of the hard shell. The transformation takes place over 9-14 days. The caterpillar is forming an abdomen, legs, and of course WINGS! The caterpillar will  emerge from the chrysalis a Butterfly!

Stage 4: Butterfly 

As a butterfly this guy will drink nectar, and spend their days pollinating our gardens. Butterflies will reach full maturity in 4-7days depending on the type of butterfly and the cycle begins again...

Monarch life cycle