Butterflies, in the order Lepidoptera, are some of the most amazing and fascinating creature to young and old alike. They are small bits of bright color that brighten up the world by fluttering around from flower to flower, drifting on the wind. They have been used to teach religion by showing how they start as a tiny, pinpoint egg, become a lowly worm that eats everything only to “die” for a time and then be changes into a wondrous creature that lives in and enjoys the light and beauty of the world. Let’s look at that life cycle a little closer.
The egg of the butterfly is very tiny and round, but contrary to what many believe it isn’t just laid any where, on any plant. Each butterfly species has a specific type of plant it looks for upon which to lay its egg. Monarchs always need a type of Asclepias, commonly known as milkweed where as the Caribbean Butterfly looks for Passiflora, one of 300 types of passion fruit. These plants are the only ones that can provide the nutrients that their specific type of caterpillars will need.
The eggs hatch when they are ready. How long does this take? It varies not only between species, but also with temperature and humidity as well as day light. When the hatch, a tiny caterpillar emerges. It is smaller than the egg, but grows rapidly, increasing weight and body length several times in the first day or two. It is constantly molting and shedding its shin. Unlike many moth and beetle larvae, it will usually stay near its host plant, that is the one the egg was laid on and the caterpillar needs to survive. How long will it be a caterpillar? Depends on species, food and nutrients, some last over a year and some are caterpillars just a few days.
Now the body starts to change and the caterpillar will go into a dormant stage. It becomes a pupa (also known as a chrysalis). It spins a web like compound into a sack around its body, the cocoon. Here the body will rest and change drastically. Body shape changes and wings form. What exactly is happening is still a subject of much debate, but the result is amazing. After a time, and again the time varies, the butterfly adult emerges.
The cocoon opens a small hole and the adult squeezes out, looking drab and malformed. Some people try to help, but don’t. The squeezing is essential for the veins to open and to push blood into the wings. Soon after emerging, the butterfly will spread its wings and join the rest of its species in the world. It will mate, lay eggs and start the whole cycle anew. After mating, the female dies!
That is the life cycle of what some consider the most beautiful insects in the world.