Butterfly metamorphosis is incredible to behold, no matter what age you are!
There are four stages to a butterfly's life cycle:
Egg. The female butterfly lays her tiny eggs on leaves, usually
on the underside. Some butterflies lay their eggs in clusters; others only
one per leaf.
Larva. Caterpillars are butterfly larvae that hatch from the
eggs. They like to eat! They'll grow startling amounts and shed their skin
(molt) multiple times as they grow.
Pupa. The pupa of a butterfly is called a chrysalis. When the
caterpillar is ready, it will molt for the last time, and this time the new
skin will form the protective chrysalis shell. While the pupa seems
completely inactive, inside it the caterpillar is being transformed into a
Adult. After about 10-14 days, the butterfly breaks open the
chrysalis and crawls out. Its wings are wet and folded up, so it has to pump
fluids into the wings to expand them before it can fly.
>> Watch our butterfly life cycle video to see the larva, pupa, and
adult stages - you'll even see a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis!
leaves from the plant on which you found the caterpillars
sugar water or oranges
(Or you can raise your own butterflies with the much more
Collect some caterpillars. You can find these on common host plants like
milkweed (monarch butterflies) and parsley (black swallowtail) or trees like
cottonwoods and quaking aspens (tiger swallowtail). Check a field guide to
find out what butterflies you have in your area and what their larvae eat.
Place the caterpillars in the aquarium or jar along with fresh leaves from
the plant you found them on.
You will need to provide lots of fresh food for the caterpillars during
the larval stage. They are very picky eaters; some caterpillars will only
eat one type of plant.
As the caterpillars get larger, you can prop some sticks in the jar a
few inches off the bottom. The sticks will give the caterpillars a place to
hang from when they transform into chrysalides.
After your butterflies emerge from the chrysalides, they will hang still
for quite some time until their wings are fully expanded. They will most
likely secrete a colored liquid (usually red or orange) that is leftover
pigment from the formation of their wings.
You can feed the butterflies
with sugar water sprinkled on carnations, or with fresh orange slices. They
will drink by unfurling their proboscis, which they use for sucking
up the liquid, like a straw. After observing them for awhile, release them near where you found the
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