The lifecycle of the butterflies

The lifecycle of a butterfly is subdivided into four very different development stages. This development is also called "metamorphose". There are no similarities between the different development stages. Therefore it is realy a wonder, that a thorny caterpillar becomes a colourful butterfly.
In this article  I will explain the mostly hidden lifecycle of the butterflies.

1st development stage: The egg

We will start with the egg. The females are laying their eggs on the respective fodder plants. With a secretion they glue the eggs on foliage or other parts of the fodder plant. The choice of the fodder plant is very important, because often a caterpillar eats only one species of fodder plant.
The eggs of each butterfly species are individell in size, form and texture. They could be longish, globular, flat, ribbed, big or small. Furthermore the eggs can be layed in groups or alone. The colour is the only thing which is nearly constant. All eggs are yellow or greenish.
The embryo in the egg eats the yolk.

Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)
Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)
Southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena)
Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

2nd development stage: The caterpilla

The 2nd development stage begins with the eclosion. The first meal of the tiny caterpillar is the eggshell. The only destiny of a caterpillar is growth. Therefore they has an unquenchable appetite. The caterpillar of the Peacock (Inachis io) grows from 2 mm up to 5 cm in some weeks. Because of this enormous multiplication of the birth weight, the caterpillar must exchange its skin.
Caterpillars have no bones or an exoskeleton. Only the pressure of the body liquids give the caterpillar its form.
The body structure of a caterpillar is very variable. They can be hairy, thorny,naked and very colourful.
This development stage sould require 3-4 weeks, but there are exceptions. Some butterfly species finish this development stage in 2-3 days or in 13 years.

Small Apollo (Parnassius phoebus)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)
Southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena)
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
Peacock (Inachis io)

3rd development stage: The pupa

It is a hidden development stage and starts with the pupation. The skin of the caterpillar burst-opens and the pupa appears. Some pupa hang head-first on a bough or a leaf. Some pupa spin a belt, which holds the pupa in vertical position. And some pupa spin a cocoon in the foliage or in the ground.

But all of these pupa use this development stage to convert their bodies. The viscera of the caterpillar will be dissolved. New viscera will be formed and also the body structure will be changed.

The pupa is inelastic and marginal-movable. Camouflage is the only protection of the pupa against enemies.
This development stage is finished in about one week. But in some cases it is finished after seven years.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Peacock (Inachis io)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) pupa with belt
Southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena) pupa with belt
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

4th development stage: The butterfly

This development stage starts with the eclosion of the butterfly. The wings are not ready to use. First of all the new born butterfly must unfold the wings. It pumps blood into the veins of the wings.
If this process is finished succesfully, the blood is going back into the body. Now the wings have to dry.

A new phase of life has begun and the butterfly can conquer the sky.

In this development stage the butterfly can eat only liquids. Nectar from flowers or sweet juices from fruits. Furthermore a butterfly needs mineral-nutrients. The origin of these mineral-nutrients are cadaver, excrements, sweat and puddles. But some species eat nothing.
There is no food competition between the caterpillar and the butterfly.
This phase of life will be only used for the reproduction.
The lifespan of a butterfly vary between one day and one year.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
Peacock (Inachis io)
Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera)
Sawallowtail(Papilio machaon)
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Mocker Swallowtail (Papilio dardanus)
Colias hyale
Woodland Brown (Lopinga achine)

Here you can see the copulation of some species.

Southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena)
Southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena)

Here you can see the egg deposition.

Now we are at the end and also at the new start of the lifecycle. A new generation of butterflies has started.


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Apatura iris
Inachis io
Nymphalis antiopa
Apatura iris
Vanessa atalanta
Papilio machaon
Pierides sp.
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