How Butterflies Get Their Wings

blue butterflyPhoto: wikimedia

Nothing brings to mind a beautiful summer’s day more than the fluttering of butterfly wings. Well, did you ever stop to think about the process butterflies undergo in order to become so beautiful? It’s actually a complicated and not so pretty process.

beautiful butterflyPhoto: law_keven

A butterfly starts life as an egg which is usually laid on a leaf. The egg is lined with a thin coating of wax which prevents the egg from drying out before the larva has had time to fully develop. This egg stage lasts a few weeks and from the egg hatches a caterpillar.

butterfly caterpillarPhoto: Lepidlizard

The caterpillar molts many times as it grows. Their wings start developing during this stage.

molting caterpillarPhoto: wikimedia

A caterpillar’s first meal is its own eggshell. Afterwards they spend most of ther time eating leaves. A few caterpillars are meat eaters (I’d hate to meet THAT hungry caterpillar!)

Monarch caterpillar eating swan plant leafPhoto: Wikimedia

Eventually the caterpillar turns into a pupa or chrysalis. This is usually the resting stage but it is also the metamorphisis stage when the adult structures of the butterfly are formed.

butterfly pupaPhoto: Evanherk

(I just call this the “yucky” stage!)

butterfly pupaPhoto: wikimedia

At last, the chrysalis becomes fully mature and the adult butterfly begins to emerge.

Monarch Butterfly EmergingPhoto: Wikimedia

BUT, the butterfly cannot fly however, until the wings are unfolded. The newly emerged butterfly needs to spend some time inflating its wings with blood and letting them dry. Some butterflies’ wings may take up to three hours to dry while others take about one hour.

Danaus plexippus emerging from chrysalisPhoto: wikimedia

Butterflies have two antennae, two compound eyes, and a proboscis.

butterfly headPhoto: wikimedia

(Not so beautiful when you see it all so up close, is it?!)

There are between 15,000 and 20,000 species of butterflies worldwide.

butterfliesPhoto: wikimedia

Most butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species.

butterfly chillingPhoto: Lewis Collard

It’s rather a shame, though… so much beauty to give yet their time on Earth is so short – but that’s the life of a butterfly.

blue butterflyPhoto: aussiegal

Sources: 1, 2