Butterfly Life Cycles

Butterflies and moths go through several different stages in their lives, and each stage appears remarkably different and fascinating.

They start their lives as a small egg attached to a plant - often on the leaf - by glue that was produced from the adult butterfly as it laid an egg. When it is ready, the egg hatches out into a caterpillar, or larvae, which then proceeds to eat as much as possible. It often grows several times its original size and sheds its skin to do just that.

When it is fully gown, the caterpillar will fix itself to somewhere, again often the underside of a leaf or branch, and shed its final skin to reveal a pupae or chrysalis. Moth caterpillars actually spin a cocoon using a leaf, in which the pupae then develops.

Over a period of time - which will depend on the species of butterfly or moth - the pupae undergoes an incredible change known as metamorphosis, where it gradually develops wings and turns into a beautiful insect, finally emerging, ready to find mates and start the whole process again. You can see all the different lifestages in the Butterfly Paradise at ZSL London Zoo.

Meet the expert

Our expert butterfly keeper Mark Tansley takes you through the Atlas Moth lifecycle in the video below.