LETS START WITH EGGS! Butterflies and moths are not born with wings. To grow up, they must go through many changes, or metamorphoses (met-uh-more-fo-sis). First, a mother butterfly glues each egg to a host plant (something the baby can eat). Butterfly eggs are round or oval, 1 mm wide, and come in many colors. (Thats only as big as a pencil point!)
SQUIRMY, WORMY LARVAE Baby butterflies and moths are called caterpillars, or larvae. After hatching out of the egg, the small caterpillars eat the leaves of their host plant and grow very quickly. Soon, they outgrow their own skin! When this happens, they stop eating and shed their skin (molt). Now, the caterpillar has a new, loose skin, and begins eating again. A caterpillar will molt many times before it is fully grown. Each new stage, or instar, may look different from the one before. Caterpillars do nothing but eat and grow. If too many caterpillars get on a tree, they can eat all of the leaves and kill the tree. Some caterpillars are pests in a garden, but they are a natural part of the forests and fields. Caterpillars try to protect themselves from predators like birds and lizards. Some caterpillars eat plants that make them taste bad to birds. Swallowtail caterpillars have 2 smelly orange spikes that can stink out a predator. Many caterpillars have large eyespots (fake eyes) that can scare a predator away. Some caterpillars have spines with poisonous stings. And some are camouflaged to look like leaves, twigs, or even bird droppings!
IS IT CALLED A CHRYSALIS OR A COCOON? After the caterpillar is fully grown, it becomes a pupa. This is a resting stage which helps it grow into an adult. Each type of caterpillar turns into a certain kind of butterfly or moth. If a caterpillar is going to be a butterfly, it grows a chrysalis (kris-uh-lis), or hard protective skin. This body armor protects the caterpillar as it hangs from a leaf or twig. Inside the chrysalis armor, the caterpillar is turning into a butterfly. Some moth caterpillars cant grow chrysalises. They have to make their own protective cocoon from twigs, leaves, their own hair, or silk they spin. These moth pupae are hidden under leaves or glued to a twig. Meanwhile the caterpillar inside becomes a moth.
FINALLY, A BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY! When the change is complete, a full grown butterfly or moth pokes a hole in its armor and squeezes out. He hangs on a twig, flapping his wrinkled wings to warm up. Soon, his wings unfold to full size. Then he flies off to find a nectar flower or a mate. Some adult butterflies and moths do not eat, but most have long hollow tongues for slurping sugary nectar from flowers. Some of the flowers pollen gets on their feet. When they fly to the next flower for more food, the pollen falls off and pollinates the flower. Now the flower can grow seeds. Some butterflies live their whole lives in the same place. Others, like the Monarch, migrate over 1000 miles each way for the winter. Since they cant fly the whole trip there and back, they lay eggs along the way. After they die, their babies, the new butterflies, keep migrating. They know the path by instinct.
HOW CAN YOU TELL A BUTTERFLY AND A MOTH APART? Butterflies usually fly during the day. They have bright colors, knobbed antennae, and fold their wing up when they rest. Moths usually fly at night. Then have dull colors, feathered antennae, and keep their wings flat open when they rest.
CAN YOU GROW A BUTTEFLY GARDEN? If you like butterflies and caterpillars, you can grow a small butterfly garden at your home or school. Some good plants to put in your garden are Pentas and Lantana. They provide nectar (food) for adult butterflies. If you want the butterflies to stay and lay eggs, you have to plant the foods caterpillars can eat, host plants. Ask at a garden store, and they can help you choose the best plants for your garden. Remember, dont use pesticides - it will kill the caterpillars! Click here to see some information on the plants in Pelotes Islands butterfly gardens.
Wright, Amy. Peterson First Guides Caterpillars. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1993.
Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve
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