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|The Life Cycle of a Butterfly
Can you imagine anything more beautiful than a butterfly?
Neither can I!
On this page I will briefly explain the life cycle of a butterfly, which is one of the nature's greatest wonders.
As carefree as the butterfly may seem, its life is preoccupied by the purpose of reproduction. That is not as simple as it may sound. The first step of course is to find a congener of the opposite sex to mate with. To accomplish that, the females sit in between plants or in some other strategic spots and release an aromatic substance to attract the males. As butterflies mainly recognise each other merely by their external appearance, the male butterfly throws himself practically at every female that resembles the female of his own species. Every butterfly species do have a characteristic odour, and as the female butterfly can only smell her own congeners, not of the other species, she will court and mate with only those that she can smell. Others will be chased away.
When the suitable candidates for mating have approached one another, the courting and mating takes place. The mating usually takes several hours, depending on the species. After the mating the males go looking for other females while females will seek suitable plants to lay her eggs on. Butterflies have a strong preference for particular plants, some of them even having one single food plant, which can make this stage difficult as well. The caterpillar that in time will crawl out of the egg can only utilize its natural food plant - not any others. Luckily the female butterfly can recognise the suitable plant with the sensilla of her legs. Thus solely by standing on a plant the female can judge whether the plant fulfils its purpose as a food plant or not.
The Egg - the Birth
The embryo develops inside the egg. A typical time for this process would be from two to three weeks, however there are species that overwinter at this stage, and thus remain in this state from the summer to the following spring. The eggs vary in shape, pattern and colour, all of them carrying certain characteristics of the species in question. Once the caterpillar is fully formed, it is able to pierce the eggshell and it will eat a hole just large enough for emerging from the egg.
The Caterpillar or Larva - the Growth
This is a vital stage in the life cycle of a butterfly: this is when the growth occurs. Utilizing its food plant, the caterpillar absorbs a large quantity of food. As the caterpillars do not have elastic skin, they need to shed their skin four times. The new skin is much larger than the previous one, thus enabling the growth. As with eggs and the adult butterflies, caterpillars are unique in their appearance. This stage usually lasts from one to two months, but some species overwinter as caterpillars. The caterpillars are vulnerable to predators, and are often well camouflaged to blend in with their food plant or habitat.
The Pupa - the Transformation
How an active caterpillar becomes a pupa with no ability to move is one of nature's great wonders. At the end of the caterpillar's final instar (an interval between the moults) there is one more skin change, in which the skin splits to reveal a wet, glistening creature that looks like a hunched-up caterpillar. In a couple of hours the pupal characters become prominent and once the outer layer dries and hardens the pupal stage is fully formed.
Before this final transformation the caterpillar seeks a place where to pupate. Generally butterflies do not spin cocoons to protect the pupa. However, many of them use their silk for fastening themselves in a plant. The pupae are astutely camouflaged by form and colour, which protects them during this vulnerable stage. Inside the pupal the metamorphosis takes place. From the minute initial stages of adult features, cells grow to produce the recognisable adult characters. The duration of this stage is usually about two weeks, however, some species overwinter as pupae.
The Butterfly - the miracle: the End, the Beginning
When the metamorphosis is completed, the adult butterfly breaks the pupal case, pulls itself out and hangs upside down with its wings wet and limp. It begins immediately expanding its wings by forcefully pumping blood into the veins of its wings. Once the wings have reached their definite measurements, the butterfly lets them dry and harden up. When that is accomplished, the butterfly pumps the blood back out of its wing veins.
Now the wings are light and strong, and the butterfly is ready to take a flight for the first time.
The freshly emerged, beautiful butterfly will fly to seek nourishment and then congeners to mate with, thus creating new beauty in the world. To fulfil this task the butterfly will have to brave the weather, the unsettled environmental conditions, and of course it has to be always wary of its predators.
Now, with this newly emerged butterfly, the cycle is to start from the very beginning--
Good luck, little one!
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