1. What is the life cycle of a butterfly?
- A butterfly goes through four stages during its life cycle: egg > larva (caterpillar) > pupa (chrysalis) > adult (butterfly). The amount of time spent in each stage depends on the species, as well as the time of year. On average, the egg stage is a week, the larval stage is a month, the pupal stage is two weeks and the adult stage is a month. In areas like Colorado where the winters are cold, butterflies overwinter in one of the four stages. This will extend the time of that life stage for the winter months. The egg stage begins when a female butterfly lays her eggs on its associated host plant, on which the emerging caterpillars will feed. Females can lay hundreds of eggs during their time as an adult. The next stage, the caterpillar stage, is focused on feeding and growing. A caterpillar can grow to be 100 times its original size! Once a caterpillar is done growing it will hang itself from a supportive structure, like a tree branch, and change into a pupa. Important note: butterflies do not make cocoons; this is something only some species of moths produce. Inside the pupa metamorphosis of caterpillar into a butterfly occurs. Special cells that existed inside the caterpillar will be used in the pupal stage to make various structures of the adult (ex. wings, legs, eyes). Once fully developed the adult butterfly will emerge from the pupa, a process known as eclosion.
2. What happens as the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis as an adult?
- When a butterfly first emerges from its pupa, or ecloses, its wings look crumpled and wet. The butterfly will hang upside down from its empty pupa and use hemolymph (blood) from its abdomen to fill the veins in its wings. As the hemolymph flows into the wings they will begin to expand and eventually dry and harden. It can take up to two hours before the butterfly’s wings are capable of flight.
3. What is the liquid that comes out of a butterfly after or as it emerges from its chrysalis?
- This liquid is called meconium and depending on the species can be a variety of colors (ex. brown, green, red, pink). Meconium is the left over material from development of a caterpillar to an adult and is expelled before or during a butterfly’s first flight.
4. At Butterfly Pavilion, what do you do with the butterflies when you take them out of the chrysalis chamber?
- Once a butterfly is capable of flight, we take it out of the chrysalis chamber in preparation for its release into Wings of the Tropics. Butterflies are released twice a day during our Spineless Spotlight called ‘Butterfly Encounter’. During a Butterfly Encounter one of our Interpreters will talk about the butterflies we have within the exhibit, why we focus on the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats and, finally, will release the newly emerged butterflies. Butterfly Encounters happen daily at 12:30pm and 3:30pm and are free with admission into Butterfly Pavilion!
5. Where does Butterfly Pavilion get their butterflies?
- We import chrysalis from butterfly farms in tropical rainforests located in eight countries and four continents across the globe. Locations include: Ecuador, Suriname, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Kenya, Malaysia, Philippines and Australia.
6. How does Butterfly Pavilion protect rainforests?
- The butterfly farms we work with use sustainable methods to produce chrysalis. The farmers could participate in large scale cattle farming or logging, but choose instead to preserve the natural landscape of their land.
7. Why do chrysalises look different?
- Similar to adult butterflies, chrysalises vary in color, shape and size between species. Some chrysalises are colored green or brown, camouflaging themselves within the forests they inhabit. Others choose an opposite tactic and are brightly colored (ex. yellow or gold). This type of showy coloration is often intended to warn potential predators that the chrysalis may be distasteful and/or poisonous.
8. What do butterflies eat as adults?
- As mentioned earlier, caterpillars feed on plant material and, more specifically, on their species’ host plants. They are able to eat plant material because of their chewing mouthparts. Adult butterflies, on the other hand, have a proboscis – a long tubular structure that extends while feeding and coils up when it’s not being used. Butterflies use their proboscis to feed on nectar from flowers. Although it may look like a straw, a proboscis acts like a paper towel drawing liquid upwards. The tip of the proboscis has sensors that can be used to ‘taste’ the food source before eating it.