The Butterfly Egg and Where to Find It (The Butterfly Life Cycle)

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)
Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

A butterfly goes through four stages in its life cycle: egg, larva (caterpillar), chrysalis and adult. This is a complete metamorphosis.

The appearance of a butterfly completely changes from an egg to a larva to a chrysalis to an adult butterfly. Each stage looks very different from the others.

The total butterfly life cycle from egg to adult, may span just one year. The length of time spent in each stage differs from species to species. Some spend the most their time as an egg, others as a chrysalis.

We start with a series of four articles on the life cycle of the butterfly, beginning with the egg.

Mission Blue butterfly egg (Icaricia icarioides missionensis). CourtesyPatrick Kobernus/
Mission Blue butterfly egg (Icaricia icarioides missionensis). CourtesyPatrick Kobernus/

The butterfly egg is hard to find but understanding the butterfly life cycle helps.

A butterfly starts life cycle as a small egg deposited on a leaf of a host plant. The host plant is what the tiny larva will eat as it grows into a fat caterpillar.

The female butterfly finds a suitable host plant by sight and by smell. She uses chemical receptors on her feet to scratch the leaf surface to “taste” the plant to see if it is the right one. If it is the right plant, she curves her abdomen down and lays an egg.

Butterfly eggs are tiny. Usually one to two millimeters and hard to find.

Butterfly eggs vary in shape, size, color and texture. The shapes vary with species. Some are round, but most are oval. Some eggs are ribbed.

Some eggs are usually laid singly. It depends on the species of butterfly. Single eggs are laid one per plant or one per leaf. Other species lay eggs in groups or clusters. Some times these groups or clusters are laid in distinct patterns. Some eggs are stacked one on top of another.

Eggs are attached to the plant by a sticky fluid that the female butterfly secretes. The egg is glued to the plant. Eggs are attached to a plant so strongly, that if your try to remove it, you will destroy the egg. Eggs are usually laid on the top or bottom of a leaf. Or even inside a blooming flower. They can also be laid on the stem of a plant.

Some eggs overwinter and hatch in spring. But, most caterpillars spend the winter as chrysalis. They emerge as adult butterflies when the weather warms up in the spring.

A butterfly egg hatches in about a week. This depends on temperature, humidity and the time of year. An egg may change color just before it hatches. Most butterfly species lay between 100 to 300 eggs. Some species may lay a few dozen. Others can lay over a thousand.

The first meal for some tiny caterpillars is its own egg-shell. But, most eat the host plant, its’ egg was laid on.

Tomorrow’s post: the next phase of a butterfly’s life cycle is the caterpillar or larva stage.

Other pages about the butterfly life cycle: chrysalis and adult

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