Stages in a Butterfly’s Life

The life cycle of a butterfly has 4 stages: egg, caterpillar (or larva), chrysalis (or pupa) and winged adult (or imago). Inside the egg the embryo develops into a tiny caterpillar. After hatching the caterpillar eats and grows. It is the only stage in the life cycle that grows. A caterpillar has stages, too. It sheds its hard skin 4 times as it grows. Each stage between shedding is called an instar. Most Manitoba species have 5 instars.

Click this image for more
on the Monarch's life cycle.



The last instar sheds its skin to become a chrysalis. In its last days as a caterpillar the adult body starts to form. In the chrysalis the changes are completed.

The fully formed butterfly in the chrysalis sheds its skin one last time to emerge as a winged adult. It will mate and start the cycle over again.

Video - Watch a clip of a Monarch caterpillar entering the pupa stage (2:45, 4 MB) and of a Monarch coming out of its chrysalis (1:00, 1.5 MB).


One complete cycle from egg to adult is called a brood. Most Manitoba butterflies have only 1 brood per year, but in the south our summers are long enough for some to have as many as 3 broods each year. Some butterflies, including many species in the far north, need 2 summers to complete one brood.

Click each butterfly
for more information

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