The Butterfly Pupa Stage

The third of four stages - The butterfly pupa stage

The prepupa stage leads caterpillars to seek a safe, sheltered spot. Their final skin will be shed.  From this stage the caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly.

Different butterfly species seek different shelters. For example, gossamer wings seek leaf litter or loose soil which is usually found under their host plant. The swallowtail caterpillar will seek shelter on tree trunks.

The butterfly caterpillar will create a protective shell that is known as a chrysalis. These are usually transparent.

Cremaster and J-Stage

Outside of the gossamer wing caterpillars creating their butterfly chrysalis underground in loose soil or by constructing a crude cocoon in leaf litter, other species will prepare differently...

Many nymphalidae caterpillars spin a silk pad that will hook the chrysalis to the structure it will hang from. This is known as the cremaster. Inside the chrysalis the caterpillar is upside down with its head toward the ground.

Photo: Jpog123

Chrysalis at 45-degrees

Other butterfly species, such as pieridae, papilionidae and lycaenidae, angle themselves at 45-degrees from the twig they will pupatate from.

They secure themselves by spinning a U-shape safety belt around the center of their chrysalis. Rather than hanging upside down they will remain head-up toward the sky.

During this stage the caterpillar does not feed or grow bigger. All that eating they did prior during their larva stage provides energy for this transition.

Photo: Meisterphotos

Butterfly Mitosis

This stage is also referred to as the resting stage.  Ironically there is little rest taking place inside their chrysalis.

Metabolic activity forms new organs creating the adult butterfly while chemically deteriorating the organs from the caterpillar.

The imaginal discs that began structuring the adult parts such as wings, eyes and legs during the later caterpillar instars will now become cursors for the adult butterfly through complete mitosis, or cell division.

Photo: Mauhorng

Butterfly wing development is where a lot of nutrients are especially required.  The butterfly pupa transitions to the emerging butterfly anywhere within a few hours to two weeks depending on the species.

Outside of individual species, climate also factors into the time required for and adult emerging butterfly. In warmer climates pupatation happens more quickly than in colder climates.

In colder climates some butterfly chrysalis will hibernate or go through diapause until spring. Once days become longer and warmer weather begins a trigger starts the pupatation process. The chrysalis splits open and the adult butterfly emerges.

This video starts with the very hungry caterpillar going into the pupa stage, through ecdysis to an adult butterfly. Ecdysis is the last moulting for the chrysalis upon which emerges the adult butterfly. Take note that this pieridae butterfly supports itself by creating the
U-shape safety belt. 
(Nice music)

Some butterfly pupa can defend themselves against predators.

With no room there is limited movement inside the chrysalis and most are silent.  Sounds made from the stridulatory organ can scare away potential predators. This organ is found in insects, including spiders and crickets.

For the butterfly chrysalis the stridulatory organ is found somewhere between the 4th and 6th abdominal segments. The segments rub together with excessive speed forcing the desired sounds. Changing the rubbing speed and force can also change the pitch.

The Mourning Cloak butterfly pupa will slam against its supporting structure, others like the Monarch butterfly pupa make an audible clicking sound. Different butterfly species from the Lycaenidae and Riodinidae families can make a chirping, creaking, clicking or humming noises.

Again, depending on the butterfly species, only one sound can be emitted while others can produce two sounds. These sounds are not normally made spontaneously.  If the butterfly pupa is irritated then the sounds are emitted.

As with any other butterfly life cycle stages, the pupa stage is also exposed to all kinds of environmental elements - cold, droughts, storms and predators, including small as ants.

While attempting to remain still it is highly likely that many butterfly pupa will fall from their perch because of these different environmental conditions. If elements don't kill the pupa it is highly likely the fall will.

Photo: Hwongcc

Should they survive, the emerging butterfly will probably be crippled. They must use extreme caution getting out of their pupa - if they even can. The pupa is extremely soft. After falling any indentation in it can cause deformities.


  • There is often confusion with the terms chrysalis and cocoon...

Like a butterfly, moths also go from a larva into a pupa.

The moth larva spins twigs and other materials into a sticky silk which becomes it's moth cocoon.

Inside the cocoon is when metabolic activity takes place transforming organs for what will emerge a moth.

Yes, there are exceptions. A few butterflies make cocoons. Most of them, however, molt their last skin and the silk is used only to attach itself to the safety area where it will rest.

Related Articles:

Emerging Butterfly - The adult butterfly emerges from its pupa.
The Butterfly Larva - Understand instars, molting, diapause and hibernating.

Back from Butterfly Pupa to home page Easy Butterfly Garden

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below. Protection Status Copyright © 2010-2022
Privacy Policy Disclaimer

Printer icon Print
Follow Me on Pinterest

Join Easy Butterfly Garden on Facebook

Recent Articles

  • follow us in feedly
  • Add to My Yahoo!
  • Add to My MSN
  • Subscribe with Bloglines
  1. Annual Bluegrass

    Jan 14, 17 08:14 PM

    Annual bluegrass (Poa annua) is considered a weed in the Poa family, which has a few popular turf grasses. If this gets into your butterfly garden listed are a few ways to eradicate it.

    Read More

  2. Candytuft Flowers

    Sep 25, 16 10:54 PM

    There are the annual, or Iberis, candytuft flowers and also perennials which are called Iberis sempervirens.

    Read More

  3. Keeping Deer Out

    Sep 19, 16 01:10 PM

    Reviewing the types of products available for keeping deer out of our gardens along with building fences. Many of these products help with other garden pests.

    Read More

  4. Butterfly Meadows

    Sep 19, 16 12:52 PM

    Compared to other wildlife gardening, butterfly meadows take time and are not for the faint of heart.

    Read More

  5. Natural Gardening

    Sep 19, 16 12:32 PM

    Natural gardening includes different types of gardens. These garden types create a casual, natural envirionment and help sustain native wildlife which includes butterflies.

    Read More