Have you ever seen a butterfly emerge from its cocoon? It is a beautiful and unique sight.
There are many kinds of butterflies. They come in different colors and sizes. Scientists classify them under the Order Lepidoptera, together with the moths. If you ever encounter the term Lepidopteran, then you would know that it refers to a butterfly or to a creature with butterfly-like properties. Below is a excerpt from our video “Flutter” which tells the story of of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.
How does the life cycle of a butterfly begin?
Like humans, there are male butterflies and female butterflies. After the fertilization of the female’s eggs by the male’s sperm, the female deposits the eggs on leaves or stems of plants. This is the first stage in the life cycle of a butterfly—the egg stage. Some butterflies can lay eggs on different plants but other butterflies can only lay eggs on one specific plant. A relatively strong layer of shell termed “chorion” surrounds the butterfly egg. Outside the chorion is a thin layer of wax for protection against drying. It has a tunnel-shaped opening on one end called the microphyle, where the sperm enters in order to fertilize it. The egg can be spherical or oval, depending on the species of the butterfly. This stage lasts from days to weeks but if the egg is laid when the winter is approaching, a process called “diapause” occurs. The diapause or rest stage prevents the egg from hatching in the winter and allows the egg stage to extend until spring. Just imagine how the butterfly would fare if it hatches during winter, when there is nothing to eat and it is very cold outside. Therefore, the diapause provides a way for adapting to the weather.
What is the second stage of a butterfly’s life cycle?
The second stage occurs when then the egg hatches and gives rise to the butterfly larva. The plural for larva is larvae and larvae are also known as caterpillars. At this stage, which lasts for several weeks, the larva spends its time eating and sleeping, much like how you were when you were still a baby. Most caterpillars eat plant leaves but a few caterpillars can eat insects. The development of caterpillars involves steps called instars. The instar signifies the removal of the outer layer of the caterpillar’s covering called the cuticle. This process is also called apolysis or molting. The cuticle is made of chitin and other proteins. Instars are important because they allow the caterpillar to grow. The butterfly undergoes about 4 to 6 moltings. The last larval instar signals the start of development of the butterfly’s wing disks – the precursor to its actual wings.
What is the third stage?
The third stage involves the transformation of the larva into chrysalis or pupa (plural pupae). When the larva has grown to its full size, it seeks the right location for pupation. This location is usually the underside of the leaf but can also occur in the stems or nooks on a tree trunk. Therefore, if you want to see an actual pupa, you might want to check under the leaves or in depressions of tree trunks. After the larva molts for the last time, it then surrounds itself with the material that makes up the cocoon. The pupa inside the cocoon is incapable of movement and it is not able to actively hide. Fortunately, it is hard to see the cocoon since its color usually blends with the background environment. During this stage, wings become fully developed. The growth of the wings occurs through the process of mitosis, where there is a rapid production of new cells. Pupation lasts for 2-3 weeks, upon which the butterfly goes to its last life cycle stage.
What is the final stage in the life cycle of a butterfly?
The fourth and final stage is the adult stage. An adult butterfly is also known as an imago. The emergence of the adult butterfly from the cocoon is among the most beautiful sights in nature. However, the butterfly cannot fly immediately after coming out of the cocoon. Instead, it spends the first minutes or hours drying its body. This is perhaps the stage when the pupa is most vulnerable to its predators. During this stage, the butterfly already has six legs and four wings—a pair of forewings and another pair of hindwings. When the butterfly is already an adult, it can gather nectar from flowers for its food and reproduce. It can give rise to other beautiful butterflies. Isn’t it interesting how a small insect like a butterfly has such a complex life cycle?