The Adult Butterfly (The Butterfly Life Cycle)

A Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) butterfly visiting my garden.
A Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) butterfly visiting my garden.

An adult butterfly has but a brief time to carry out its mission. The mission: to mate and for the female to lay eggs.


The Adult Butterfly Emerges

After two or three weeks, the newly formed butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. It is now an adult.

The newly emerged butterfly is unable to fly. Its wings are crumbled and small.  The butterfly pumps liquid through the veins of the wings to stretch and expand them to their true size. Otherwise the wings will harden and be deformed. The perfectly pumped-up wings harden within an hour or so.

butterfly_tiger swallowtail
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Zinnias.

Just after emergence is also when the straw-like butterfly tongue, the proboscis, is fused into one piece from two halves. It is this tube-like tongue which sips nectar from plants.

When it is just about ready fly its first flight, the butterfly excretes waste from its body. It is a fluid called meconium. It is the liquid left over from the metamorphosis process.

A Mission to Mate

The whole of an adult butterfly brief life is spent looking for a mate, mating and laying eggs (females).

Butterflies fly over hilltops and meadows looking for mates. Butterflies link together while flying or sitting.

Mating may take up to fifteen hours in some species.  Most butterfly females will lay about 100 to 300 eggs, but some lay dozens or thousands.


What a Adult Butterfly Eats

To get nourishment and energy during all the mating and laying eggs, a butterfly sips nectar or other substances. Some butterflies dine on the “juices” from carrion (dead animals) or dung.

Some species die after a few days or weeks of life

But, others like Monarchs and Red Admirals, migrate to warmer climates. Some like the Mourning Cloaks, overwinter in cold climates as adults in hollow trees or underneath bark.

With the mating and laying of eggs, its mission is accomplished. One butterfly’s life cycle is complete and the next generation continues the species.

More on Butterflies


Butterfly Life: How Butterflies are Born, Live, and Support the Earth’s Ecosystem
by Donna L. Long
in ebook, ePub, and paperback starting at $4.99 Buy here


Other pages about the butterfly life cycle: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis.

Butterflies: Table of Contents on this blog

Butterflies and Moths; Information and Links 

Observing Butterflies At Home and Far Away


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