How Does a Caterpillar Turn Into a Butterfly?

Written by ashlee simmons
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Butterflies are insects belonging to the Lepidoptera family. They are cold blooded and have four life stages which include egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (butterfly). Metamorphosis is the entire process of how an egg ends up as a butterfly. The most unusual and complicated part of metamorphosis is the chrysalis stage, when the caterpillar forms a cocoon, undergoes amazing changes, and emerges as the butterfly.

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The butterfly's life begins as an egg that the female lays on the underside of a leaf. Different types of butterflies are attracted to certain kinds of plants, and the female butterfly lays eggs on the type of plant that the young caterpillar will eat. The larva, or caterpillar, hatches from the egg about six days after being laid. These tiny creatures are ravenous and quickly begin to eat away at every leaf in sight. During this time of tremendous growth, the caterpillar sheds its skin several times, becoming stronger and larger with each turn. It will end up being almost two inches long at the end of this cycle. The caterpillar knows when it is time to spin a cocoon because it secretes certain hormones. These hormones begin the third stage of metamorphosis.

By spinning silk and forming a cocoon, the caterpillar makes a little shell in which it can form a chrysalis. The caterpillar finds a leaf to hang upside down from, and begins to cover itself with either two leaves wrapped in silken threads, or a cocoon made entirely of silk. The pupa, or chrysalis, is what the caterpillar is called while it is changing into a butterfly. Once inside this protective space, the chrysalis forms and inside amazing changes occur. This stage lasts an average of twelve days. During this time the entire structure of the caterpillar reforms, including the building of two wings, a long tongue in which to drink and suck nectar, two antennae and the body of a butterfly. Chemical processes that are not completely understood are responsible for this last stage of metamorphosis.

After the pupa stage the adult, or butterfly, emerges. In the beginning, the butterfly's body is soft and weak. New butterflies will spend time beating their wings, acclimating themselves and growing stronger. As the wings beat, their circulatory systems fill and the butterfly becomes viable. During this time they are easy prey, because they have no defences and are unable to fly. It takes about an hour before the new butterfly is ready to leave the chrysalis and begin its new life. Once the butterfly leaves the chrysalis, the adult will live, mate and reproduce, beginning the life cycle all over again.

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