Butterfly metamorphosis is incredible to behold, no matter what age you are! There are four stages to a butterfly's life cycle:
- Egg. The female butterfly lays her tiny eggs on leaves, usually on the underside. Some butterflies lay their eggs in clusters; others only one per leaf.
- Larva. Caterpillars are butterfly larvae that hatch from the eggs. They like to eat! They'll grow startling amounts and shed their skin (molt) multiple times as they grow.
- Pupa. The pupa of a butterfly is called a chrysalis. When the caterpillar is ready, it will molt for the last time, and this time the new skin will form the protective chrysalis shell. While the pupa seems completely inactive, inside it the caterpillar is being transformed into a butterfly.
- Adult. After about 10-14 days, the butterfly breaks open the chrysalis and crawls out. Its wings are wet and folded up, so it has to pump fluids into the wings to expand them before it can fly.
>> Watch our butterfly life cycle video to see the larva, pupa, and adult stages - you'll even see a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis!
To raise your own butterflies, here's what you'll need:
- a small aquarium or one gallon jar
- cheesecloth and a large rubber band to cover the jar
- caterpillars you collect
- leaves from the plant on which you found the caterpillars
- sugar water or oranges
(Or you can raise your own butterflies with the much more convenient Butterfly Garden.)
- Collect some caterpillars. You can find these on common host plants like milkweed (monarch butterflies) and parsley (black swallowtail) or trees like cottonwoods and quaking aspens (tiger swallowtail). Check a field guide to find out what butterflies you have in your area and what their larvae eat. Place the caterpillars in the aquarium or jar along with fresh leaves from the plant you found them on.
- You will need to provide lots of fresh food for the caterpillars during the larval stage. They are very picky eaters; some caterpillars will only eat one type of plant.
- As the caterpillars get larger, you can prop some sticks in the jar a few inches off the bottom. The sticks will give the caterpillars a place to hang from when they transform into chrysalides.
- After your butterflies emerge from the chrysalides, they will hang still for quite some time until their wings are fully expanded. They will most likely secrete a colored liquid (usually red or orange) that is leftover pigment from the formation of their wings.
- You can feed the butterflies with sugar water sprinkled on carnations, or with fresh orange slices. They will drink by unfurling their proboscis, which they use for sucking up the liquid, like a straw. After observing them for awhile, release them near where you found the caterpillars.
Find more information on raising butterflies on this page.