The life cycle of the butterfly, which is known as the complete metamorphosis, has to be one of the most fascinating reproductive processes that nature has to offer and is a delight to witness. From the egg comes the hatch of a caterpillar with a voracious appetite, devouring more vegetation than one would imagine. This supports its rapid growth which causes it to quickly outgrow its non expanding skin. It will shed this skin for a new one several times before it reaches its last stage or instar as these stages are called.

At the end of its last instar the caterpillar will fasten itself to a stem or branch to begin its transformation into the pupa or chrysalis. It is in the chrysalis that the most fascinating part of the process occurs. Over a period of time that varies by species, the thing that was a caterpillar metamorphoses into the completely different structure of the butterfly.

When the time is right, it splits the skin of the chrysalis and emerges. It then plumps up its wings with fluid from its body, dries out and takes wing as the beautiful creature we know as the butterfly. The entire process for the Eastern Black Swallowtail in this gallery of pictures took 25 days. The photograph of the Cardinal eyeing the caterpillar is included to point out the fact that life for the butterfly is quite uncertain. Just days before, the caterpillar in the Life Cycle Gallery was brought inside to a protected location where its metamorphosis was recorded.

Butterfly Life Cycle Gallery