In one of the most incredible displays of creation, a crawling caterpillar becomes a flying butterfly. Crawling on its 6 to 16 legs, the caterpillar forms a cocoon and later emerges a beautiful flying creature. During a process called metamorphosis, this transformation takes place inside of a cocoon.
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Stages of Butterfly's Life
A butterfly lives a relatively short life of as little as a few weeks or as long as about one year. About one-quarter of its life is spent inside of a cocoon, except in cases of hibernation. During the life of a butterfly, there are four stages it must pass through: the eggs are laid, the caterpillar is born, the cocoon is formed, and the butterfly emerges.
The female butterfly lays her eggs directly on plant leaves. The eggs can be clustered in groups or single. It normally takes about five days for the eggs to hatch. The eggs don't actually hatch--the baby caterpillar eats through the egg's shell and crawls out onto the leaf. It will eat this leaf and use it to form its cocoon later. In just a few days, the caterpillar will grow to 27,000 times its weight at birth.
Inside the Cocoon
The caterpillar immediately begins to eat the plant leaf in order to form its cocoon. Attaching to a leaf, twig, or even a telephone pole, the caterpillar sheds its skin, which will form the outer covering of the cocoon. Outside, the shell can be drab to blend in with the surrounding or brightly coloured. Whatever the colouring, the camouflage effect will help keep predators from eating the caterpillar.
Length of Time in a Cocoon
Most butterflies spend about the same amount of time in its cocoon--five days. However, winter's cold temperatures can cause a caterpillar to hibernate throughout the season. A harsh or dry environment can cause a caterpillar to stay in its cocoon until more favourable conditions exist. A few weeks or several months could pass before the caterpillar transforms into its new body.
The cocoon is called the chrysalis. Once the cocoon is complete, the caterpillar is secured inside where it will stay for anywhere from several days to several months. If the weather is cold, such as winter, a caterpillar may hibernate throughout the winter. In the spring, the caterpillar's metamorphosis is complete and the butterfly appears, ready to begin the life cycle again. In several species, including the Monarch, the cocoon will turn transparent a day or two before the butterfly emerges.
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