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What Happens When A Caterpillar Transforms Into A Butterfly?

Updated June 14, 2019 24.7k views8 items

Almost everyone knows butterflies begin as caterpillars, but how does the transformation actually occur? One fascinating aspect of a butterfly’s life revolves around the four different stages they experience from birth to death. This series of stages is called a complete metamorphosis. It begins with an egg, which ultimately becomes a caterpillar (larva), then a pupa (chrysalis), and finally an adult butterfly (imago).  

The most interesting step of the metamorphosis process is when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Caterpillars are unique - and sometimes deadly - creatures all their own. It's almost hard to believe these insects turn into beautiful butterflies. What changes are happening to a caterpillar’s body as it emerges from the egg and transforms into a butterfly? This metamorphosis explainer is your step-by-step guide that clarifies exactly what happens during metamorphosis and how caterpillars turn into butterflies.

  • A Complete Metamorphosis Is Set In Four Parts

    Photo: YouTube

    From a biology standpoint, a metamorphism can be defined as an act in which a living organism changes from one stage to the next. Insects, such as butterflies, experience what is called a complete metamorphosis, which means they develop and morph their appearance through several stages to reach adulthood. A complete metamorphosis is set in four stages, while incomplete is stretched out into six. Unlike insects like grasshoppers, who experience an incomplete metamorphosis, butterflies have a larval and pupal stage, allowing them to mature faster than insects who have a nymph stage. 

    A lot of other insects go through complete metamorphosis to fully develop, including some ants, fleas, mosquitoes, and bees. 

  • Butterflies Court Each Other, And Can Have Sex For Up To Two Weeks

    Photo: YouTube

    Butterflies are one of the many creatures that court before breeding with a mate. During a courtship ritual, males will flap their wings vigorously to release special pheromones embedded in their wings. These pheromones are a sexual stimulant to interest a female butterfly into breeding with the male. However, the female will first use her antenna to read the male's pheromones and ensure his health and vitality. If he’s not up to par, she will reject him. Once a pair is established, the male will attach to the female by the abdomen. The entire copulation session can last from one hour to over two weeks, depending on the species.

  • Female Butterflies Take Egg Laying Seriously

    Photo: Pinterest

    After the mating process, the pregnant female will fly off and search for a place to lay her eggs. This is no small task either; a female butterfly is very particular about where she lays her eggs. She knows her babies will emerge hungry and need the right kind of food to sustain them. She will seek out plant leaves she can recognize by inspecting its color, shape, and scent. Depending on the species, she may lay one single egg or a cluster of eggs. When laying her eggs, the female produces a super sticky substance that firmly secures the small eggs onto the leaf. This ensures their safety by preventing them from falling off, as some females will lay their eggs on the side of the plant's stem or the underside of a leaf.

  • Caterpillars Eat So Much They Split Their Skin

    Photo: YouTube

    Depending on the climate and the species of butterfly, the egg hatches in about five to 10 days, and a tiny baby caterpillar is born. During this stage, all the caterpillar does is eat and grow. In fact, the caterpillar eats so much it grows very rapidly, splitting its skin and shedding over four different times during this larval stage. The splitting and shedding of the skin is known as molting. It’s interesting to note that the caterpillar will grow over 100 times its size within the first few weeks because of its ferocious appetite. It must eat so much during this stage so it can store enough nutrition for its chrysalis stage, as well as for its adult reproductive stage.