Adult female butterflies typically lay their eggs on plants. When the egg hatches, the emerging caterpillar immediately eats the surrounding plants. The choice of plant is specific. The adult butterfly has to lay her eggs near a type of plant which the caterpillar will eat. Some eggs are translucent; upon close inspection, you can see the caterpillar growing from inside the egg. Butterfly eggs come in different shapes and sizes: round, ribbed and oval. The type of egg is determined by the particular breed of the adult butterfly.
A butterfly's metamorphosis is one of the most iconic transformations in nature. Metamorphosis represents the life and death cycle of butterflies which typically happens over the course of a few months. This cycle is vital for the sustenance of the species as most butterflies have relatively short life spans.
Also known as the caterpillar stage, the caterpillar mostly eats for storage. The nutrients from this food will be used when it becomes an adult. Caterpillars typically shed their skin four to five times during this stage to grow; caterpillars typically grow 100 times their initial size before going inside a pupa.
Also known as the chrysalis stage, caterpillars form a pupa around them after reaching their maximum length and weight. Caterpillars of different species form their pupas in various locations; for instance, some pupas are found suspended on a branch, buried underground or are hidden in leaves. The changes in a pupa are largely internal; up until the latter period of this stage, there are no significant changes in the pupa's appearance. Examples of changes include growing tissues, organs and limbs. According to the Academy of Natural Sciences, this stage lasts for several weeks to a few months. However, some pupa stages have gone for as long as two years.
The adult stage features the most profound transformation in a butterfly's metamorphosis. It completely takes on a different shape and color. Several key differences include longer legs, compound eyes, antennae and wings. Butterflies typically master flying within a few hours and start searching for a mate immediately after. Butterflies can no longer grow upon reaching this final stage. The life span of butterflies average between one to two weeks; however, hibernating butterflies can live for several months.
- Academy of Natural Sciences: Four Stages of Butterfly Metamorphosis
- TheButterflySite.com: Butterfly Life Cycle
- "The Life Cycle of a Butterfly"; Bobbie Kalman, et al.; 2002
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
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