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The life cycle of a butterfly

Posted on July 31, 2015 by Potter & Rest

We’re talking about all things butterfly as part of our support for the Big Butterfly Count, which runs until August 9.

With thanks to the www.wildlifetrusts.org, we’ve put together a detailed look at the life cycle of the butterfly. 


Female butterflies spend much of their time finding the right food plant to lay their eggs on. Most caterpillars can only feed on a few plant species and some eat only a single food-plant. 

The colour and shape of the egg is unique to each species of butterfly. Many eggs do not hatch as they become prey for birds, mites, bugs, parasitic wasps and disease. 


Caterpillars are the eating stage of a butterfly’s life. The egg-case often contains valuable nutrients and is usually the caterpillars’ first meal. After this they feed on plants. 

Their sideways moving jaws are solidly built and toothed, ideal for cutting through leaves. 

The caterpillars of butterflies and moths have three sets of legs at the front. These are the trus-legs, which will become the legs of the adult butterfly. Further back there are eight pro-legs, plus a pair of claspers at the tail. These are used to grip leaves and twigs, but disappear during metamorphosis. 


This is the transformation stage of a butterfly’s life. Inside the chrysalis, ‘organiser’ cells move about inside the soup-like contents, forming all parts of the adults’ body.

Emerging from the chrysalis is a dangerous time for the butterfly. The wings are soft and crumpled, they have to be extended and dry out until they are hard before the butterfly can fly. 


The main goal of an adult butterfly is to mate and lay eggs. It may only live for a few weeks. It feeds on sugary nectar to get the energy to fly.

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