The Lifecycle of Butterflies

A comparative look at a few southwest species

It’s early May in Phoenix and we’re starting to see lots of blues, and more and more Monarchs, Queens, Yellows, Whites and Skippers. But in my yard there has been an interesting lag the past couple of years – I’ll observe an early generation of butterflies in March/early April, then for a few weeks hardly any butterflies.

Is this cycle unique to my yard, or perhaps it’s related to the natural lifecycle of our butterflies? An early generation becomes active (or migrate in) in March, mate and lay eggs, then a few weeks later the next generation begin to show up in the yard. Let’s look at the lifecycles of some of our butterflies.

Gulf Fritillary

We had a mild winter this year and I’ve seen Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the passion vine without stop. They are cold blooded though, so cold temps will slow down their metabolism.

Lifecycle: Egg to Adult in 4 – 5 Weeks
Egg stage – 4 to 8 days
Caterpillar – 2 to 3 weeks
Chrysalis – 5 to 10 days
Butterfly – 2 to 4 weeks

Monarch

The Monarchs develop from egg to adult in about 4 weeks:

  • Eggs hatch in about 4 days. Females lay one egg on a plant; in their lifetime they will lay 100-300 eggs.
  • Caterpillars go through five instars in about 14 days. When they first hatch, caterpillars eat the egg shell for nourishment. Similarly, they eat shed skin after every molt.
  • Chrysalis stage is about 14 days

The overwintering generation lives about eight months due to a biologic change that stops reproductive behavior during their migration south. The summer generations of the butterfly live only three to five weeks.

Great Purple Hairstreak

Great Purple Hairstreak

Lifecycle: Egg to adult in 5 – 8 weeks

  • Egg – 4 to 6 days
  • Caterpillar – 3 to 4 weeks 
  • Chrysalis – 10 to 20 days
  • Adult – 4 to 10 days

Painted Lady

Lifecycle: Egg to adult in 4 – 8 weeks

  • Egg – 4 to 14 days
  • Caterpillar – 2 to 4 weeks
  • Chrysalis – 7 to 14 days
  • Adult – 6 to 20 days

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