The Life-cycle of a Butterfly

The life-cycle of a butterfly (and moth for that matter) is a remarkable series of changes between seemingly very different forms culminating in the emergence of a butterfly. Throughout nature there are fantastic and fascinating occurrences of many kinds. The metamorphosis of an egg to a butterfly is just one of those wonders.

The following series of pages outlines the process from start to finish. There is also a one page short version available featuring the Zebra, Heliconius charitonius. You could get the short version made into custom t-shirts for your science club.

The story starts with a pair of butterflies mating. This enables the females eggs to be fertilised. Like many other species in nature there is often a courtship routine preceding the actual mating. Some butterflies fly in spirals, sometimes the female lies with her wings in a certain position.


Brimstone pre-mating. Brimstone pre-mating.
Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, in pre-mating pose Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, in pre-mating pose

The purpose of any courtship routine (humans included!) is to discover the suitability of the potential mate. Part of this process is to discover if the female is already fertilised (pregnant might be a human parallel), the female can release a pheromone (chemical) which will show her unavailability, or just not follow the usual mating routine.

Scotch argus in copula

Scotch argus, Erebia aethiops mating (in copula)

Once it is established that the pairing is suitable mating takes place. See the picture left for a typical example. The butterflies stay coupled for a period of time. Sometimes a short time sometimes longer. It is not unusual for the pair to fly while still coupled.

Once mated a process occurs which results in the fertilisation of the females eggs. Then she is ready to lay eggs.




© All pictures in these pages copyright to Simon Coombes. Permission must be sought and obtained for any use.