From Caterpillar to Butterfly: An Inside Look

Thursday, May 23, 2013

God has created some amazing creatures! We have been learning about one of them, the butterfly, namely the Painted Lady Butterfly.  The Painted Lady Butterfly is very common throughout North America and goes through 4 life cycle stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) & the adult Butterfly.

Stage One: Egg

The female butterfly will lay several eggs on a leaf.  Like most butterflies, the Painted Lady Butterfly tends to lay her eggs on plants the future caterpillar will enjoy, like thistle.  This stage will last about 3 to 5 days.

Stage Two: Larva (Caterpillar)

Once the caterpillar hatches from the egg, it will eat the outer egg shell, which is high in protein.  The caterpillar will continue to feast on many leaves, growing quickly.  The caterpillar will go through 4 instars, or 4 molts.  The skin does not grow with the caterpillar and they will shed (molt) their bristly skin as they continue to grow.  Caterpillars also have spinnerets that produce silk,  found right under the mouth.  The silk helps them balance while moving and climbing.  As the pre-pupal stage nears, more and more silk will appear. This larva stage will last between 5 to 10 days.

We purchased our larva from Insect Lore.

 Stage Three: Pupa (Chrysalis)

Once fully grown, the caterpillar will be around 2 inches long and ready for the next stage.  Finding a safe place, the caterpillar will make a silk pad from the spinneret to attach to.  It will then hang upside down, curling into a "J" shape.  It will hang this way for about 24 hours.

Soon, the skin will actually split open from head to abdomen revealing the chrysalis.  The chrysalis is hard, shiny and brownish-green with gold dots.  This is the final molt.  I caught this on camera last year and it was amazing!  You can click here to read that post and see the metamorphosis as it happened.

While inside the chrysalis, the body completely liquefies and begins rearranging into a butterfly.  It's really an incredible process!  If you look closely at the chrysalis you will see the butterfly wings inside.  This stage lasts around 7-10 days.

Stage Four: Butterfly

Towards the end of the metamorphosis, the chrysalis will become dark and transparent.

The chrysalis will begin to split open and a butterfly will emerge.  The wings will be soft and shriveled.  The butterfly will usually rest on the remnants of the chrysalis, in our case, the side of the mesh pavilion.  The wings slowly begin to unfold and a red liquid, known as meconium, (tissue remains from the metamorphosis) will drip off as the butterfly waits for the wings to dry.

Butterflies use a straw like projection, called a proboscis, to sip nectar from flowers.  The proboscis is normally coiled up in flight, but in the picture below, it is uncoiled as it sips sugar water.  We soaked a cotton ball with a simple mixture of 4 parts water, 1 part sugar which was boiled and cooled.

When our butterflies were ready, we released them. 

Abby got to gently hold and release each of her 5 butterflies.

One particular butterfly loved her dress.  She walked around the yard several minutes before the butterfly flew away.

 It was such a great, hands-on experience for Abby.  She loved every minute and learned so much!


  1. AnonymousMay 23, 2013

    What a beautiful experience! I loved reading and following along during the transformation. Abby is so sweet & cute. I am sure she was very gentle with her new friends.

  2. Replies
    1. It was a fun unit, thanks for stopping by!

  3. Love your photos of every stage, I have rarely managed to capture every stage. Thanks for linking up & I'm looking forward to exploring your blog.

    1. It is a hard thing to catch every stage, especially when they make a chrysalis or emerge. For us, it seemed something always happened overnight, while we were outside or in town. :-)

  4. Wonderful to have captured every stage like this, Your daughter looks delighted with the beautiful butterfly at the end.

    1. She was beaming all day! I'm very thankful to have been able to share that experience and moment with her.

  5. What an exciting transformation to watch!