The Life and Times of a Butterfly

By Linda Gustke, Education Manager

You and I start off as babies, frogs are first tadpoles, small plants are seedlings. Every living thing has its own lifecycle, the changes it goes through from birth to adulthood. What does that look like for butterflies? Let’s just say it looks a little different than how most animals evolve in their lifetime. Butterflies are amazing creatures, changing completely from one form to another during a process called metamorphosis.

monarch chrysalis

Monarch chrysalis. PC: Lisa Hartlund.

Let’s breakdown that big, sciency word – metamorphosis: “meta” = form, “morph” = change. Simply put, metamorphosis is when there is a big change in appearance as an animal grows older, so big that, often, the adult does not look like the baby. Even though we may not look just like our baby selves, we still have the same general appearance as we grow, so we don’t experience metamorphosis.

In the butterfly’s metamorphosis, there are four stages. These stages are the same for all butterflies, even though the look and length of time spent in each stage is unique to each species.

  1. Egg – Female butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves and stems of a host plant, which is a plant their caterpillars love to eat. Eggs come in different shapes, colors and textures. They may be found in groups or individually. The egg is often the caterpillar’s first meal after they hatch, yum!
  2. Larva – This stage, also known as a caterpillar, spends most of its time eating. They eat the leaves of the host plant they hatched on, shedding their skin several times to allow them to grow larger.
  3. Pupa (pronounced PYOO-puh) – Once they are fully grown, caterpillars find a safe place to form a chrysalis. Inside this hard shell, the caterpillar begins to change into a butterfly. Soon, the butterfly’s wings can be seen through the chrysalis, meaning it’s ready to emerge.
  4. Adult – After the butterfly emerges, it will mate and begin the cycle all over again.

Ready to see the miraculous process of metamorphosis up close? When you join us for Butterflies & Blooms this summer, look closely in our metamorphosis chamber to compare the chrysalises of the different butterflies and maybe you’ll catch one emerging! The exhibit is open daily from 10 am-5 pm through August 31.

grandma daughter in front of chrysalis chamber

Chrysalis chamber in butterfly house. PC: John Oates Photography

Want to see caterpillars and butterflies grow and change in your own backyard? Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and plant your own pollinator paradise with these simple garden designs made in partnership with the Wild Ones – Green Bay Chapter and Stone Silo Prairie Gardens. You can buy these plants at local nurseries like Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, too!