The life-cycle of a Butterfly

This is a new section dedicated to the earlier stages of a Butterflies life. It is an ambitious project to try to add details and images of the early stages of Butterflies that are described elsewhere in the guide. As it is winter there is no way I can begin taking photographs so for now we start with a generic sequence of a Butterflies life. The Butterfly featured is the Zebra, Heliconius charitonius, a resident I believe of the southern USA. .

The stages described below are similar for most Butterflies and represent one of the most remarkable changes, metamorphosis, in the natural world.

The adult female Butterfly first mates with a male, see Aporia crataegi, for an example. She then finds a foodplant for the caterpillar to feed on. Some species stick to a single variety, others use various different plants or trees. She lays an egg, in charitonius a single egg, on the end of a tendril of the Passion flower, Passiflora caerula. Other species lay bunches of eggs all nestled together, or even in a vertical column in some cases.

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Empty Zebra egg

Zebra Egg

After a short period the egg hatches and a tiny caterpillar emerges, The caterpillar eats a large amount of the leaves from the plant it is living on. It goes through a series of stages or instars, shedding layers of skin to accommodate its ever increasing size.

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First instar caterpillar A later instar caterpillar

Eventually after a period of some weeks feeding the caterpillar hangs itself from a branch using silk that it excretes from the end of its body. The details of this vary from species to species. The caterpillar forms a hard case around itself and turns into a pupa or chrysalis.

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Two views of the pupa

Now of course the caterpillar changes into a butterfly within its protective case. A few hours before emerging the pupa becomes more transparent showing the Butterfly inside.

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