How Long Does a Butterfly Live (With 15 Examples)

The average lifespan of a butterfly is short, often only a few weeks, and depends on several factors such as temperature, environment, diet, and predators.

Overview of Butterfly Life Cycle

Butterflies go through complete metamorphosis and have 4 life stages:

  • Egg stage
  • Larval stage
  • Pupa
  • Adult butterfly

The butterfly lifecycle starts when the female butterfly looks for host plants to lay eggs. They usually pick milkweed as it can provide proper nutrition for the larvae once they hatch.

Then, the butterfly caterpillar will hatch and start eating the plant and all around it to grow — sometimes 100 times their starting size. Caterpillars have hard exoskeletons, so they’ll molt and shed skin multiple times during growth.

The pupa stage (or chrysalis) comes next. This stage occurs when the caterpillar reaches full growth and no longer needs to eat. Some butterfly species will make a silk cocoon, but most will just hang themselves somewhere. During this stage, the larva liquefies, and dormant cells activate to turn the caterpillar into an adult.

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Finally, the adult butterfly will come out of its shell. It will take a few hours for its wings to dry. Then it will be ready to fly and repeat the lifecycle. Its only job is to lay eggs, so many adult butterflies don’t eat.

How Long Do Butterflies Stay in an Egg?

Butterfly eggs
Butterfly eggs

Butterflies stay in the egg stage for around 3 to 7 days, but the length varies for different species of butterflies. Some may even overwinter and survive the cold months. The female will lay many butterfly eggs — up to 500 to ensure that at least some eggs hatch.

Egg predation, parasitism, and plant response to butterfly eggs affect how long and if the butterfly eggs survive. In general, only about 10% of eggs survive to become adult butterflies.

How Long Do Butterflies Live as a Caterpillar?

what do caterpillars eat

Caterpillars usually live for about 2 to 5 weeks. However, the length of this stage depends on the species and the time of year when it’s born. This is the most dangerous stage in a butterfly’s lifecycle due to high mortality.

Predators, weather conditions, and disease affect how long the caterpillar will survive. For some species, the survival rate of outdoor caterpillars is as low as 5%. Still, when butterflies are raised inside, the survival rate can climb to 95% in perfect conditions.

How Long Do Butterflies Stay in a Cocoon?

Butterfly cocoon
Butterfly cocoon

This stage will last 10 to 14 days, but some species may stay in the chrysalis for years. Once the time comes, most butterfly species will pupate by either making a silk cocoon or hardening into chrysalises.

Temperature is one of the main triggers determining when this stage will end. Depending on the location, weather, and species, the pupal mortality rate varies from 2% to 100%. For example, overwintering pupas show a lower metabolic rate and stronger immune response than pupae in continuous development.

How Long Do Butterflies Live as an Adult?

The adult butterfly lives only a week or two, depending on the species, although some wintering and tropical butterflies are exceptions. Some can survive up to 6 months. Additionally, larger butterflies have a long adult life.

The adult stage of a butterfly depends on the time of year when they hatch, location, food availability, presence of parasites, predators, and temperature. For example, the migratory generation of monarch butterflies lives longer than other generations. On the other hand, lizards, frogs, and spiders may damage the butterfly’s wings, affecting their lifespan.

List of Butterfly Life Spans by Species

Here’s how long some butterfly species survive:

1.Eastern black swallowtail10 to 12 days
2.Western tiger swallowtail6 to 14 days
3.Zebra swallowtail6 months
4.Monarch 2 to 6 weeks
5.Viceroy 6 to 14 days 
6.Mourning cloak10 to 11 months 
7.Red admiral10 months 
8.Painted lady12 months
9.Common buckeye6 to 20 days
10.Baltimore checkerspot6 to 9 months
11.Orange sulphur2 to 4 weeks 
12.Malachite6 to 14 days 
13.Western pygmy blue5 to 7 days
14.Milbert’s tortoiseshell10 days
15.Common Brimstone10 months 

Impact of 3 Environmental Factors on Butterfly Life

Frittillary Butterfly

Facts about butterflies show these insects are highly susceptible to environmental changes. Here’s how the life span of a butterfly depends on several factors.

1. Temperature

Almost all stages of butterfly life depend on the temperature, as butterflies are cold-blooded. Tropical kinds and those that migrate to Mexico usually live longer since they spend time in a warm climate. On the other hand, butterfly eggs located in cold weather likely won’t hatch until it gets warmer.

2. Captivity

Butterflies living in the wild have a shorter life span than those living in captivity. Captive butterflies have access to more nutrients as caterpillars and enjoy a safe environment as pupae, plus predatory-free adulthood. All this slightly increases their life expectancy.

3. Physical Size

In general, smaller butterflies do not live as long as larger ones. Larger butterflies have a bigger wingspan, meaning they can sustain a larger wing injury and still be able to fly. Furthermore, larger butterflies store more reserves in caterpillar stage, which can extend their life span.

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