There is a popular belief that a butterfly has a very short life span but it all depends on the species of the butterfly. The life span can be between weeks to nearly a year. There are between 15 000 and 20 000 species of butterflies worldwide.
The development of a butterfly can be divided into four stages:
Stage One: THE EGG
The egg is laid by an adult female butterfly on a plant. The egg can be laid from spring, summer or fall.
Stage Two: THE CATEPILLAR
This is known as the feeding stage. The job of the caterpillar is to eat and eat. As the caterpillar grows it split its skin and sheds it about four or five times. Food eaten is stored and the adult will use the food at a later stage. Caterpillars can grow 100 times their size.
Stage Three: THE PUPA OR TRANSITION STAGE
This is when the caterpillar is fully grown and it stops eating – the caterpillar will turn into a pupa. The pupa may be under a branch, hidden in leaves or buried underground. The pupa will be protected by a cocoon of silk. The stage can last from a few weeks, a month or even longer. From the outside of the cocoon it may look if there is going nothing on in the inside but there is actually changes taking place. The caterpillar is growing rapidly inside the cocoon that will develop into legs, wings and eyes.
Stage Four – Final Stage: THE ADULT BUTTERFLY OR REPRODUCTIVE STAGE
The adult butterfly has the characteristics of long legs, long antennae, compound eyes and beautiful colored wings. In stage two, the caterpillar’s job was to eat and now in stage four the adult butterfly’s main purpose is to mate and lay eggs. Some species of butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers by flying from one flower to the next and some species do not feed at all. The adult butterfly consumes energy by feeding on nectar.
There is ore than 800 species of adult butterflies from 9 different families that can be seen in South Africa. There is 5 popular species namely Acreidae, Danaidae, Nymphalidae, Paplionidae and Pieridae.
By: Wayne Lubbe – River Lodge Ranger