Photos and videos of monarch identification and the complete life cycle
Latest Monarch Population Updates: The 2019 Monarch population numbers are in and they are not good. It appears that our eastern monarch population has declined by 53% this past year after appearing to rebound the year before. We were informed earlier this year of the dire state of our western population, which declined 86% for both 2018 and 2019. This means it's time to get busy planting milkweed and conserving open space. If everyone participates in some way (even very small ways) we can collectively make a huge difference in bringing back both eastern and western monarch populations.
Differences Between Male and Female Monarch Butterflies
Male versus female monarch butterfly
Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly
The monarch life cycle can be broken down into four separate stages. Each begins and ends within a range of time depending on temperature. From beginning to end is approximately 30 days.
The complete monarch life cycle from egg laying to eclosing from a chrysalis
1) Egg (click images to enlarge)
2) Caterpillar - also called larva (click images to enlarge)
3) Chrysalis - pupa stage (click images to enlarge)
4) Adult Butterfly - Life Span is 2 weeks to 8 months depending on generation/migration
Monarch butterfly eclosing from its chrysalis (pupa)
Monarch Life Cycle Slide Show
Videos of Monarch Metamorphosis
Below are all of the amazing life cycle stages of the monarch butterfly. Each stage lasts between 3-6 days, except the chrysalis, which may last 10-20 days.
Above is a tiny 2 mm monarch caterpillar hatching from its 1 mm egg. Watch the black head capsule emerge from the top of the egg as the caterpillar chews its way through the outer shell called the chorion.
Once the caterpillar leaves the egg, it is in its first instar stage until it molts. This is the beginning of an amazing journey for this tiny caterpillar that will include eating a LOT of milkweed leaves, growing exponentially, molting four more times and completing an amazing transformation inside its chrysalis. The final stage of metamorphosis is when the adult monarch butterfly ecloses, or emerges, from the chrysalis.
Above is a first instar shedding its skin (molting) and entering the second instar stage. Notice how much brighter the colors are and how visible the new antennae are after the molt.
This monarch caterpillar is going through its second molt. The difference between an early and a late third instar is pretty amazing. Watch the 3rd instar molting to a 4th instar too see how much this little caterpillar changed in just a few short days.
The above Naturedigger video is of a monarch caterpillar shedding its skin (molting). When this happens, it enters into the next "instar" or stage of larval development. Monarchs go through this change five times. Watch the next video to see the final molt before the larva becomes a pupa or chrysalis. Go to the 5:29 mark, to see removal of the head capsule.
This is a 4th instar caterpillar shedding its final skin before becoming a chrysalis (pupa). At the end of the video, watch as it eats its skin. This happens quite often after each molt.
This is the final molt after the larva or caterpillar reaches its fifth instar. Once the last skin has been shed and the chrysalis has formed, they will remain in this stage (called the pupa stage) for 10 to 20 days. Watch the video below to see the final stage of metamorphosis. The actual "eclosing" of a monarch butterfly. It's pretty incredible, you may want to go grab some popcorn!
Below is the final stage of metamorphosis when the adult monarch butterfly "ecloses" or hatches from the chrysalis. It is truly one of nature's most spectacular miracles.