Butterfly Life Cycle In Tennessee

Butterfly Life Cycle | First of all, butterflies are probably humankind’s most favorite of all the insects. People enjoy seeing these colorful creatures fluttering from flower to flower feeding on nectar. Butterflies are found throughout the world coming in all shapes, sizes and colors. Butterflies are amazing in their development and how they have adapted to the environment around them.

monarch-caterpillar monarch-butterfly


The butterfly life cycle consists of complete metamorphosis. Complete metamorphosis is described as a complete change in appearance from a young larva life stage to an adult life stage. This process includes the egg stage, the larva stage, the cocoon or chrysalis stage and the adult stage.



Most adult female butterflies will lay eggs on a specific plant to allow the hatching caterpillars a food source. There can be a single egg or egg cluster. Some species will lay their eggs in the fall to over winter and then hatch in the spring. Other species will lay eggs in spring to hatch in summer. In many cases 100-200 eggs can be laid.



Beginning Life Stages of the Butterfly

Eggs hatch into caterpillars (larvae). They have chewing mouthparts and will spend most of their lives feed in plants. A few species are predatory feeding on insects.

Larvae will go through a number of growth stages called instars. At each instar stage the caterpillar will molt (shed its outer layer) and grow in size. Caterpillars have three pairs of true legs and up to six pairs of prolegs. Prolegs are not legs but have hooks on the ends to help the caterpillar grasp a surface. This stage may also have hair and horn like structures. Most butterfly caterpillars do not cause damage to food crops but some like the small cabbage white can cause crop damage.

When the time is right the caterpillar will find a suitable location to attach itself. It then molts for the last time to form the chrysalis. In many cases the chrysalis is clear. This is when the magic happens.

Inside the chrysalis the larva state does a complete transformation from the caterpillar to the beautiful and colorful winged adult. The adult then emerges unfolds and inflates its wings and after a short period can fly.



Adult Butterflies Life Stage

Butterfly adults have three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings. The body and wings are covered tieh scales. Adults are liquid feeders unlike their larval young. Most adults have an extending proboisis and feed exclusively on flower nectar. Some species may feed on plant pollen.

Adults are very oriented to color. Their antennae can pick up scents in the air. They can also taste with their feet which may also help them find suitable plants to lay eggs. They are also pollinators of many plant species.

The adult butterflies will mate and the female will lay eggs and start the process over again.


Interesting facts on butterflies:

  • The giant swallowtail caterpillar larvae look like bird dropping to fool potential predators.
  • Some butterfly larvae can attack and cause damage to crops.
  • The Queen Alexandras’s birdwing is the world’s largest butterfly and is endangered.


Butterfly Defense & Protection

Many butterfly adults and caterpillars have a number of defenses to protect themselves from predators. Some adults resemble other butterfly species that have a noxious taste to birds. Some have eyespots on their wings that may ward off predators.

Giant swallowtail caterpillars appear to be bird droppings. Some other caterpillar species may have bristles or hairs to protect themselves.


Environmental Changes And Affects On Butterflies In Tennessee

Butterflies are wonderful and interesting insects. They too are affected by changes in their environment and by man. One of the most well known is the monarch butterfly that migrates thousands of miles from Canada to Mexico. This species is being affected by numerous factors. The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world and is now endangered.


As a result, enjoy the beautiful creatures and plant butterfly gardens for their benefit so we can keep them around for a long time.



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