orange and black butterfly with white dots on purple flower, Monarch Butterfly on Lavender, life cycle stages
Witnessing the monarch butterfly life cycle stages from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly over the course of a few weeks in our own backyard has been one of the most uplifting and amazing experiences.
Monarch Butterfly on Lavender, life cycle stages

Since late February, I’ve captured photos and videos of the different monarch butterfly life cycle stages and transformation right here in my own and my neighbor’s backyard in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Florida.

What started with my neighbor Joanne showing me caterpillars in her yard and a chrysalis hanging on the wall of her garage, has turned into a beautiful and delightful creative and zoological project.

Also: now Scott and I are hooked on buying milkweed plants like all the other “suckers” – as we freak out when the caterpillars are chewing down on the last leaves and we wonder: if we don’t find more plants, will the caterpillars starve? … where will the butterflies lay their eggs? … do monarch caterpillars eat up the leaves that already have monarch eggs on them? … does that make them sick? … would that be considered cannibalism?

Anyway. I’m pleased to finally share with you photos and videos covering all the stages of monarch butterfly transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly to laying eggs again. Okay, I didn’t capture the “making eggs” phase – but I’ll add that if I ever do.

Monarch Life Cycle Stage: Caterpillar

The caterpillar (aka larva) emerges from the egg that the monarch butterfly has stuck to the bottom of a milkweed leaf. Here the caterpillar will eat its way through the leaves and buds of the milkweed and go through 5 growing stages (aka instar) – shedding its skin five times. It goes from tiny and almost translucent to impressively large (about 2 inches long) and black-white-yellow striped. The entire caterpillar stage lasts around 10 – 14 days.

Monarch Caterpillar
Monarch Caterpillar eating its way up and down a tropical golden silk milkweed. Milkweed is poisonous to humans and other animals. If a bird eats a monarch caterpillar, the bird supposedly throws up. Lesson learned.
tiny monarch caterpillar underneath milkweed leaf during its first growing stage or instar
Tiny monarch caterpillar underneath milkweed leaf during one of the earliest growing stages or instar.
Monarch Caterpillar
Two Monarch Caterpillars on Tropical Milkweed.
Two large Monarch Caterpillars competitive eating to the top of silky gold milkweed with no flower buds left, tropical, Florida
Two large Monarch Caterpillars competitive eating to the top of a tropical scarlet milkweed plant – now without any flower buds.

Turning Into A Chrysalis (Pupa)

Next, the caterpillar will find a place to just hang on and turn into a chrysalis. This does not have to be a milkweed plant – but preferably somewhere safe, where one doesn’t get knocked about.

Monarch Caterpillar
The monarch caterpillar has attached itself with silk to a leaf and hangs upside down in a j-shape for about a day.
Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Stage, caterpillar turning into chrysalis
The pupating begins as the larva (now darker and shriveled-up looking) straightens back out and the jade-colored chrysalis begins appearing near the bottom.
Striped Monarch Caterpillar Larva turns into jade green chrysalis
The striped monarch caterpillar / larva turns into jade green chrysalis / pupa.

Monarch Life Cycle Stage: Chrysalis

For about 8 – 12 days, the chrysalis will appear to be doing nothing – but inside, the monarch butterfly metamorphosis is happening from larva via goo to butterfly!

jade green Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis
The Jade-green monarch chrysalis with its golden accents looks almost too intricate and vibrant to be just an in-between stage. It’s a little work of art in itself.
Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis turns black one day before the butterfly emerges, wings are already visible through the pupa skin
The monarch butterfly chrysalis turns black one day before the butterfly emerges. The striped wings are clearly visible through the pupa skin.

The Butterfly Finally Emerges!

The moment has finally arrived. And I felt so lucky that I got to witness what truly felt like a miracle: the monarch butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, unfurling its wings and pulling out its surprisingly long body. Thank you, Joanne, for watching and letting me know when this was happening. Hope I get to see one in my own yard soon – and from the very beginning of the first “opening pop”.

Here is a video I made of the monarch butterfly emerging from its thin chrysalis walls. This process usually only takes about 15 minutes. In this case it took about 45 minutes. To make this video only 2:15 minutes long, I chose just a few moments.

EDIT 5/14/21: Since I shot that first “butterfly emerges from chrysalis” video that inspired me to write this blog post, I watched and filmed a few more monarch butterflies pop out of their chrysalis. It turns out that the first one was having a very hard time. And I don’t think it’s representative anymore – and actually hard to watch. I’ve taken that video out of this blog post. I plan to replace it with one of the new ones in the next few days.

And here are a few photos I took in-between recording that video.

monarch butterfly coming out of its pupa or chrysalis, not a cocoon, wings curled
The chrysalis has opened and the monarch butterfly first appears with all its wings curled up.
monarch butterfly life cycle stage, butterfly emerges from chrysalis
monarch butterfly with legs out, tries to pull body out of chrysalis
orange and black monarch butterfly emerging from chrysalis aka pupa in Florida
orange and black monarch butterfly escapes its pupa
monarch butterfly life cycle stage, almost all the way out of chrysalis
The butterfly has successfully pulled its long body out of the chrysalis skin.
The butterfly has successfully pulled its long body out of the chrysalis skin.
a moment of rest after the butterfly has pulled itself from the chrysalis
A moment of rest after the butterfly has pulled itself from the chrysalis.

Monarch Life Cycle Stage: Butterfly Life

The regular female and male butterflies get to flutter around, consume nectar, and induce smiles for 2 – 6 weeks. The so-called super generation, the last generation of the season, usually born in late summer in the Northern US is the one that lives around 8 months and will migrate down to Mexico.

In Florida, we supposedly have some monarch butterflies that simply stay here and don’t migrate. Kind of like those Sandhill Cranes that live in Paynes Prairie year-round and can’t be bothered to fly back north again.

Lavender and Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Stages
Monarch on the largest and most vibrant lavender I’ve ever grown.
Monarch Butterfly on a green leaf, chainlink fence, climbing vine, jasmin
Butterfly on a jasmine leaf climbing along the fence to our neighbor Joanne, who got us hooked on monarch butterfly “breeding”.

Monarch Life Cycle Stage: Eggs…

Throughout the few weeks of its life, the female monarch will lay eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. That’s why we now have plants in different stages, too – just about matching the monarch butterfly life cycle stages. Some have grown new leaves since that plant’s larvae have moved on to their chrysalis phase – while other plants are being eaten by the next batch of larvae.

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Stage
A female monarch lays eggs on the underside of a scarlet milkweed plant, while on the main stalk a monarch caterpillar (larva) is on its way to keep eating. Yes, I’m aware that the butterfly is out-of-focus. I only got one shot of this, it all happened so quickly. But hey, the caterpillar seems sharp. Just took this photo yesterday – maybe I’ll get a better one in the next few days.
Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Stages, eggs underneath milkweed leaf
The yellowish-white Monarch eggs are easily visible underneath milkweed leaves. If you’re buying milkweed plants, take a look to see if you can get some with eggs already. Unless you rather have leaves and flowers, instead of butterflies.

Behind The Butterfly Scenes

What remains: the yellowish translucent husk of the monarch chrysalis
What remains: the yellowish translucent husk of the monarch chrysalis
Black Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis stuck on wall
A little perspective. Shadow of my phone as I took that very first chrysalis photo in February – the day it all began…
hand pulling chrysalis remains from stuck wing of monarch butterfly to free it
Because that monarch struggled for so long to get that last bit of wing free from the chrysalis wall, Joanne helped gently pull the husk away from the insect without touching the butterfly itself.
monarch butterfly on lavender camouflaged by matching orange dog fur
We know, our WhiskeyDog has an ideal mix of fur colors to blend into a lot of rocks, sand, and soil. Thanks to her photo bomb, I now know she’s also an ideal match for monarch butterfly camouflage. If it wasn’t for that purple lavender…

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Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Stages. Monarch butterfly emerges from chrysalis. Monarch transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly to egg. Photos and videos.
Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Stages, caterpillar on milkweed plant, monarch transformation from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly to egg. Photos and videos.

11 Replies to “Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Stages Photos and Videos”

  1. MAGICAL. We’ve grown butterflies in our home with the kids watching every stage carefully and then releasing the butterflies into the wild. I am planting the flowers in my yard that cater to the butterflies. This year, I have more plans on a new set of milkweed plants that will allow these magical creatures to spread.

    1. That’s so cool you’re doing that with your kids! What a great way to learn and appreciate the wonder of nature! I had no idea this was “a thing” people even did until this month. I just thought my neighbor happened to kindly provide extra milkweed plants to the butterflies that were already there. Now I’m hooked, too, and have several different kinds of milkweed plants in different stages – and with eggs and caterpillars and butterflies all around.

  2. I loved following this as you posted and now, once again, when you have put it all together. Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much, Dianne. Means a lot that after seeing some of them on social already, you came here to see the rest. It’s been so fun sharing this series in particular.
      xx Luci

  3. The photos are just stunning. You captured the beauty of the monarch butterfly’s growth. The beauty of nature is truly incomparable.

    1. Thank you so much! And yes, it truly is incomparable – especially when witnessing something is intricate, astonishing, and beautiful as butterfly metamorphosis.

  4. Interesting read! Love how you captured the whole process. I had no idea milkweed is poisonous. Thank you for sharing. I definitely learned something new today.

  5. Butterflies always have a beautiful life process. Reading this makes me appreciate them more.

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