Who needs science fiction when you can watch the real thing?
Ladybugs and Butterflies rearrange the molecules in their bodies to change from crawling, caterpillar-like creatures to beautiful, winged garden friends.
The world’s greatest transformers can be found right in your own backyard!
Butterflies and many other insects, such as ants and bees, have four major stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Eighty-eight percent of all insect have a four-stage life cycle and go through “complete” metamorphosis. The four stages are: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The remaining 12 percent—including dragonflies and grasshoppers—have a three-stage life cycle and go through what is called “simple” metamorphosis. The three stages are: egg, nymph, and adult.The key difference between complete and simple metamorphosis is there is no dormant, or “resting,” stage. Nymphs are born looking somewhat like their adult forms, and with each molt they take on more adult characteristics. But insects aren’t the only transformers. Think frogs !
How would it be if you could change into an entirely different form?
What if you could grow wings and fly. It doesn’t happen in just storybooks and movies. It happens in real life. It’s called metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is the process some animals go through to become adults… adults that look different and have different powers than they did when they were born…or hatched!
A butterfly first starts out as an egg. The female butterfly lays the eggs on a leaf. Each egg is just one fertilized cell, but it has instructions (in its DNA) on how to build the insect and for the food (the yolk of the egg) to provide energy for its growth. The eggs come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes depending upon the different instructions each type of butterfly passes on. Most butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. Others lay eggs on top. A butterfly lays 200-500 eggs. Most butterflies lay one egg at a time so that the babies won’t be competing with each other for food when they hatch. Some lay their eggs close together. In 4 or 5 days, the little creature inside the egg starts to eat its way out the eggshell and a caterpillar is born.
- This is a Monarch egg in a leaf.
- The Monarch egg is small and round. This is a closeup picture of the egg.
- You can see the size of the egg by comparing it to the point of a pencil.
- These are Swallowtail eggs. Notice they are different in color and texture.
The second stage in the life of a butterfly is the caterpillar. A caterpillar is sometimes called larvae. Different butterflies have different looking caterpillars, but every caterpillar is an eating machine. They grow VERY fast. They grow so fast that they become too big for their skin. Since their skin doesnt stretch, caterpillars have to “molt” or shed old skin. It then gets new skin. “Instar” is the term for the growing phase that a caterpillar goes through between molts. Caterpillars have four or more instars, shedding their skin four or more times during this stage of their life.
- Caterpillars emerge from their eggs at the size of just half of an eyelash.
- These are Monarch caterpillars at different instars. Caterpillars can consume 27,000 times their body weight. So much food helps them grow QUICKLY.
- Not all caterpillars look alike. This is the caterpillar of a Painted Lady butterfly.
- Swallowtail caterpillar
In about 14 days the caterpillar stops eating and is ready to start its big transformation. It latches onto a plant and forms a new skin that hardens to form a tough covering called a chrysalis. Another name for a chrysalis is a pupa. The pupa just hangs there, not eating or paying any attention to the outside world. All the action is inside.
- The chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly looks green but it is actually clear.
- Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar “transforms,” turning into mush and then rearranging itself into something that looks and behaves totally different…a butterfly.
- When fully developed, the butterfly is ready to emerge.
- All the steps from chrysalis to butterfly.
- Female Monarch butterfly. Notice the thickness of the veins.
- Male Monarch butterfly. Notice the thinner veins and the black “dot” on the lower section of each wing.
- Painted Lady butterfly
- Swallowtail butterfly