Life Cycle of a Butterfly Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:04 Butterfly Life Cycle Stages
  • 0:45 The First Stage: Egg
  • 1:10 The Second Stage: Larva
  • 1:53 The Third Stage: Pupa
  • 2:42 The Fourth Stage:…
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Kristina Washington-Morris

Kristina has taught a variety of elementary classes and has a master's degree in elementary education.

Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Butterflies don't begin their lives as colorful, flying insects. Butterflies transform or change shape through four different stages during their lifetime: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Let's explore these stages of the butterfly life cycle.

Butterfly Life Cycle Stages

Wouldn't it be strange if we were born with tails, grew legs on our fifth birthday, and sprouted wings as adults? Although we grow lots from the time we are born to adulthood, humans never transform. Unlike us, butterflies go through a metamorphosis, or transformation. A butterfly looks very different as it changes through all four stages of its life cycle. Let's look at how a butterfly transforms through the first stage: egg; second stage: larva; third stage: pupa; and fourth stage: adult butterfly.

The First Stage: Egg

Butterfly eggs are usually found on or near the leaves of plants. Each egg will hatch and transform into a single butterfly. Butterfly eggs are small. Some butterfly eggs are as tiny as the tip of a pencil. The small eggs can be spherical, like a ball; oval, like a chicken egg; or cylindrical, like a can.

A collection of butterfly eggs attached to a leaf
butterfly eggs

The Second Stage: Larva

The larva (or caterpillar) stage begins when a tiny worm-like caterpillar hatches from the butterfly egg. Caterpillars can be smooth or hairy. They can also have colorful or plain skin.

Caterpillars begin just a little bit larger than their egg. They don't stay this small for long. This is because caterpillars eat and eat and eat. A caterpillar eats so much it grows 100 times its original size. That would be like an eight pound baby gaining 800 pounds! Caterpillars grow so fast they outgrow and shed their skin 4-5 times during this stage.

A butterfly larva or caterpillar eating a leaf
butterfly larva

The Third Stage: Pupa

The pupa stage begins when a fully grown caterpillar has eaten enough food to transform once again. During this stage, the caterpillar hides inside a pupa or chrysalis. This is a protective shell that keeps the caterpillar safe while it changes into an adult butterfly. A chrysalis is similar to a small house: it keeps the pupa warm and makes it more difficult for intruders to disrupt the last transformation.

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Additional Activities

Cross the Life Cycle Bridge Activity

This fun, active activity will have your students up and moving as they review the life cycle of a butterfly. This activity can be conducted with multiple students in small groups or with individual students working alone.


  • Index cards or multiple packs of butterfly life cycle stage image cards
    • Index cards should show the terms associated with each life cycle
    • You will need multiple sets of these cards to cover an area of floor
  • You may wish to laminate the cards for future use


  • Choose a large area in which your students can play.
  • Spread the cards randomly around the area in a wide swath (to make a makeshift river of cards) face up.
  • If you have multiple students, assign them to small groups. Have your students stand on one side of the river that you created with the cards.
  • Tell your students that this game is a little like 'The Floor is Lava' game in which they are not allowed to touch the floor. In this game, however, they may use the life cycle cards as a safe bridge to cross the lava.
    • The catch is that they must cross by stepping on the cards in the correct life cycle order from egg to adult.
  • At a signal, the first students in each group should start across. When they have reached the far side, the next student in the group can go.
    • If anyone steps on a stage out of order, he/she must start again.


  • To increase difficulty, have students pick up their cards as they go through. This requires the next student to find new cards instead of just mimic the path used by the previous student.
  • Students working independently can have repeated trials in which he/she attempts to beat his/her own time traveling across the bridge.

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