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Do All Caterpillars Turn Into Butterflies? Facts, Life Cycle, & FAQ


While most believe that all caterpillars turn into butterflies, this is not entirely true.

Generally, all caterpillars transform, but that doesn’t always mean that the caterpillar will turn into a butterfly. Caterpillars are capable of transforming into two things—butterflies and moths.

All caterpillars go through the same process of metamorphosis. However, some will become butterflies and others moths.

Keep reading to learn more about caterpillars, their transformations, and why some caterpillars turn into moths instead of butterflies.

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Caterpillar Transformation

Monarch butterfly
Image Credit: dossyl, Shutterstock

While some caterpillars turn into butterflies, others turn into moths. Both moths and butterflies lay eggs that become caterpillars. Those caterpillars are destined to undergo metamorphosis, leading them to their final life stage.

During the larvae stage, caterpillars produce a hormone that keeps them in that state. However, once the caterpillars stop producing that hormone, they will start their pupae/cocoon stage, leading to the final point of their transformation.

At the last stage, every caterpillar will eventually turn into a butterfly or a moth.

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How Does a Caterpillar Turn Into a Butterfly or Moth?

Before a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it has to undergo a complete metamorphosis. It represents a transformation process from an immature stage up to the adult stage.

There are two different types of metamorphosis for insects:
  • Complete metamorphosis — This type of metamorphosis represents a transformation where the adult insect looks drastically different than the young insect. It’s common for insects, including butterflies, moths, bees, and flies.
  • Incomplete metamorphosis — This type of metamorphosis represents an incomplete transformation where the adult insect looks similar to the young insect. It’s common for insects including crickets, termites, dragonflies, and cockroaches.

The Caterpillar Life Cycle


The life of a caterpillar that will become a butterfly starts as a small, round egg. Most butterflies lay between 100 and 200 eggs, typically on leaves, which later become food for caterpillars.

This happens from spring to fall, but the precise time frame varies on the butterfly species. The eggs hatch in 2 to 3 days, which is when the caterpillar stage begins.

Larva (Caterpillar)

Caterpillars are butterfly or moth larvae, and their appearance is quite different from their adult stage. Caterpillars have long bodies with multiple tiny eyes and short legs.

They spend most of their time eating and searching for food, as they can be picky around the plants they like to consume. Because of the food it consumes, a caterpillar quickly grows and typically reaches its full size at 2 weeks old.

Once it finishes feeding, the caterpillar will start its pupa stage.

Image Credit: Krzysztof Niewolny, Pixabay

Pupa (Cocoon Stage)

The caterpillar looks for a suitable place to pupate. Once it finds a suitable spot, the caterpillar will spin a silk cocoon, later revealing a butterfly or moth.

The duration of the cocoon stage depends on the species, although it’s typically between 5 and 21 days. However, some species have incredibly long pupa stages that can last over 2 years.

Adult Stage

The adult stage is the thing most people imagine when they think about butterflies. Once the cocoon stage leads toward the end, a butterfly will break free from the cocoon. The new butterfly needs some time before it can fly as its wings need to reach their full size.

Adult butterflies have wings, long antennae, and compound eyes. Unlike caterpillars that have long bodies with multiple tiny legs, butterflies have long legs and smaller bodies made of three connected parts.

baltimore checkerspot butterfly
Image Credit: Danita Delimont, Shutterstock

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Do Butterflies Remember That They Were Once a Caterpillar?

Butterflies and caterpillars and their metamorphosis are intriguing to many scientists, which is why many tried to discover if a butterfly remembers its caterpillar stage. While butterflies can’t remember everything from their caterpillar stage, research proves¹ that they can remember certain details, typically connected with their well-being and biology. Amazing!

Can You Tell if a Caterpillar Will Turn Into a Butterfly or a Moth?

Determining if a caterpillar will turn into a butterfly or a moth is quite tricky. Most caterpillars are pretty similar, making it hard to distinguish their final transformation. However, a few different factors can help you figure out what will be the final stage of the caterpillar transformation.

Here’s what you should know:
  • If a caterpillar is fuzzy or has hair on its body, it will likely turn into a moth
  • If a caterpillar has small spikes, it will likely turn into a butterfly
  • Caterpillars with smooth skin can turn into either a butterfly or a moth
  • During the pupa stage, future butterflies have a hard covering
  • During the pupa stage, future moths hang inside silk cocoons
  • Future moths typically spend some time in the soil during the pupa stage, while butterflies don’t

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To sum it up, not all caterpillars turn into butterflies. While all caterpillars go through a transformation, some will become butterflies, while others will turn into moths. While it’s hard to determine if a caterpillar will turn into a butterfly or a moth, there are a few small clues you can observe.

Featured Image Credit: 2017343, Pixabay


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