Life Cycle of a Painted Lady Butterfly

••• T. Waters

You've probably seen a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly at some point in your life. This orange-brown butterfly is one of the most common, widely distributed butterfly species, found on all continents of the world except Antarctica and Australia. One of the most interesting painted lady butterfly facts is that it can reach a speed of nearly 30 miles per hour, allowing it to travel up to 100 miles per day during its migration. The painted lady butterfly life cycle consists of four stages.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

The four stages of a painted lady butterfly life cycle are the egg-laying stage, the larval stage, the pupal or chrysalis stage and the adult butterfly stage.

Painted Lady Butterfly Lays Eggs

During the first stage of the life cycle, the female painted lady butterfly lays eggs on a plant that attracts painted lady caterpillars, such as hollyhock or thistle. Each egg, which is only the size of a pin head, contains a caterpillar in the very early stages of growth. The egg stage takes about three to five days.

Painted Lady Caterpillar Appears

The caterpillar hatches during the larval stage, eating its way out of the egg and then eating the shell. Over the next few days, the caterpillar eats through leaves, growing rapidly and getting stronger. It spins a silk thread to keep itself attached to leaves. As the caterpillar grows bigger, its skin tightens until it is shed to reveal new skin underneath. This skin-shedding process happens four times before the caterpillar is fully grown. At full size, the caterpillar is almost 2 inches long. The caterpillar will continue to spin silk threads so that it remains attached to those leaves.

Painted Lady Metamorphosis Takes Place

To begin the pupal or chrysalis stage, the caterpillar attaches itself with a silk pad and hangs upside down on a leaf. About 24 hours later, its skin splits, exposing a dull, bronze-colored case known as the pupa or chrysalis. The pupa hangs for about a week without movement. Within the pupa, the caterpillar is turning into liquid and changing into a butterfly, a process called metamorphosis.

Painted Lady Butterfly Emerges

The butterfly pushes the pupa from inside until it splits open and the butterfly can slowly emerge. Initially, it has soft, crumpled wings. After resting on the leaf for a short time, the painted lady carefully unfolds its wings to let them dry.

The painted lady life span is about two weeks after it emerges from its cocoon. During this time, the female painted lady finds a mate, reproduces and lays eggs to start the life cycle all over again.

References

About the Author

Claire is a writer and editor with 18 years' experience. She writes about science and health for a range of digital publications, including Reader's Digest, HealthCentral, Vice and Zocdoc.

Photo Credits

  • T. Waters

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