Photos & Videos of the monarch butterfly life cycle
LATEST MONARCH NEWS (3/17/20): The numbers are in for overwintering monarchs in Mexico, and the news is not good. It appears our eastern monarch population has declined by 53% this past year. We have already been informed of the dire state of our western population which declined 86% in the last two years.
There are many things we can do to help bring our monarchs back, the most significant being habitat preservation. Monarchs need native flowering plants and milkweed to complete their life cycle and their long migration, so please consider planting a pollinator garden with early and late blooming native flowers for migration, planting native milkweed for monarch caterpillars to feed on and complete their life cycle, and avoiding the use of pesticides, which kills many of our native species. Here are resources for native species and milkweed seeds in your area:
• You can also request your local nursery carry natives that help monarchs as well as other pollinators.
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. 1) Egg - 3-5 days in this stage once laid 2) Caterpillar (larva) - five instars (when they shed or molt their skin) - 10-14 days in this stage 3) Chrysalis (pupa) - 10-20 days in this stage 4) Butterfly (adult) - 2 weeks to 8 months depending on generation/migration
Videos of monarch metamorphosis
Below are all of the amazing life cycle stages of the monarch butterfly. Each stage lasts between 3-5 days, except the chrysalis, which may last 10-20 days.
This 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; exponential growth; five instar stages and subsequent molts; a complete transformation inside its chrysalis; and the final stage of metamorphosis, when the adult monarch butterfly ecloses 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 pupa or chrysalis has formed, they will remain in this 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!
This 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.