When the weather begins to break and the landscape brightens, the brilliant colours of the first spring butterflies will begin to emerge. Butterflies that were once dormant, will awaken and lay their first brood of eggs on the crisp, green leaves of plants that will host their larva. As this next generation hatches, feeds and continues their life cycle, they will curl up for several weeks and begin the hard work of metamorphosis.
Is it a Cocoon or a Chrysalis?
The transformation quarters of a butterfly that is undergoing metamorphosis is often referred to as a cocoon. But by all accounts, this terminology is incorrect. In fact, a caterpillar's protective shield is actually part of a "growth stage" referred to as the pupa. It is inside the pupa or "chrysalis" that the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly. According to milkweedcafe.com, the pupa stage lasts approximately two weeks.
So, What is a Cocoon?
Cocoons are actually spun by caterpillars that will one day be moths, not butterflies. A fine silk is excreted from the mouth of the caterpillar; encapsulating it, to create a protective domicile for the miraculous transformation of caterpillar to moth.
Butterfly or Moth: What's the Difference?
Just as the chrysalis and the cocoon can be easily confused, at first glance the differences between butterflies and moths may not be apparent. But, their physical features and habits are quite different. Fieldmuseum.org explains that the antennae of butterflies are much thinner than that of moths, and so are their bodies. Another difference is that butterflies make their flights during the day, while moths can be seen more at night. The colours of the butterfly's wings are also more vibrant than that of a moth's.
Cocoons can be Found in the Oddest Places
Unlike butterflies, moths are not very choosy about where they call home, or the types of plant life that they eat. Moth larva has been known to spin their cocoons under branches, bushes and even wooden decks. If you find a rolled up dead leaf, you may even be surprised to find a small cocoon hidden inside after you unroll it.
Butterflies Prefer their Host Plant
Butterflies prefer to stay close to their host plant for their entire life cycle. Monarchwatch.org explains that the chrysalises of the Monarch butterfly will be found hanging from the leaves of the milkweed plant; which is its main source of food. Other butterflies such as, the black swallowtail, form their chrysalises on plants of the parsley family, which is their main delicacy.