Life Cycle of a Painted Lady Butterfly

By Tammy Lee Morris; Updated April 24, 2017
Life Cycle of a Painted Lady Butterfly

The painted lady butterfly is a common butterfly found throughout North America. It has a two-week lifespan as an adult butterfly, but its journey includes several transformations.


A pale green egg is laid on the leaves of a host plant--hollyhock, thistle, sunflower, malva or mallow. There is an incubation period of about three to five days.


A caterpillar, or larva, eats continuously until it pupates (forms a chrysalis). This is about five to 10 days after hatching. Painted lady caterpillars will eat the leaves and stems of hollyhock, sunflower, mallow, and malva plants. While it eats, the caterpillar sheds its skin as it grows. The length of time from one shedding of skin to another is called an instar. The caterpillar will go through four instars before pupating.


When the caterpillar is ready to form a chrysalis, it will search for a safe spot--usually on a leaf of the host plant. It will create a silk pad from silk that will come out of a hole near its mouth. It will hang from this pad, then its skin will split to reveal the chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar is undergoing a transformation into a butterfly, which will take about seven to 10 days.

Emerging Butterfly

When the metamorphosis is complete, the butterfly will begin to push against the chrysalis shell, splitting it. The adult butterfly will squeeze out of the shell, then it will rest. Its wings will be damp and crumpled. The butterfly will unfold and flex its wings to dry them.

Adult Butterfly

The newly emerged butterfly will continue to rest for a few hours, then it will be ready to fly and enjoy its two weeks of life, which will be focused on eating and mating to lay eggs as the cycle repeats itself.

About the Author

Tammy Lee Morris is a writer living in southern Illinois. She has been writing professionally for print publications since 1992 and contributing to online publications since 2006. Now writing a column for "The Weekly Review," she has also contributed to "Woman's World," "Countryside Magazine," and the Woman's Day website. Morris studied journalism at John A. Logan College.