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Raising Painted Lady Butterflies


From Caterpillar, To Chrysalis, To Beautiful Painted Lady Butterfly!

My son and I raised two Painted Lady Butterflies from caterpillars, to chrysalises, to beautiful orange, brown, black, and white Painted Lady Butterflies!

In the process, we learned a great deal about butterflies!

Did you know that butterflies need the sun in order to fly? It's true! I'll share more about that and other things that we learned about Painted Lady eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies, as well as several of the pictures that we took, on this site. I'll discuss the various stages of the butterfly life cycle, and provide tips on how to raise butterflies. I'll also direct you to some great links and books where you can find out more! Perhaps you'd even like to purchase painted lady caterpillars to raise yourself! I hope you have fun exploring all that this site has to offer! In the picture above, you can see one of our Painted Lady Butterflies after we released him into our backyard.


Painted Lady Butterflies begin life as a tiny green egg.

- The pale green eggs resemble a barrel.

Painted Lady Butterfly eggs are very small, about the size of the head of a pin, and are a pale green color. They have 12 to 14 white ridges running from the top to the bottom. Right before hatching, the eggs will turn a darker color. They hatch into very tiny caterpillars about 3 to 5 days after being laid.

A female adult Painted Lady Butterfly can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime. She will be ready to lay eggs about 5 to 7 days after she's emerged from her chrysalis (pupa stage). She prefers to lay her eggs on plants that the caterpillars will enjoy eating when they hatch. (See the next section for a list of some of these.)

My drawing above may give you a little bit of an idea as to what a Painted Lady Butterfly egg looks like, although keep in mind that a real egg is no bigger than the point of a pin!

Painted Lady Butterflies like Thistle Plants!

Painted Lady Butterflies like Thistle Plants!

After about 3 to 5 days, the eggs hatch into Painted Lady caterpillars.

- Caterpillars are the larva stage of a butterfly.

The first thing Painted Lady Caterpillars do upon hatching is eat their egg case, as it's filled with nutrition for them. Then they look around for more to eat. Caterpillars, which are the larva stage of the butterfly life cycle, eat, and eat, and eat. In fact, they eat almost constantly for about 7 to 10 days. Favorite caterpillar plants include thistle, mallows, peas, plantain, hollyhock, sunflower, and borage, among others.

Caterpillars do take some time every now and then to rest though. When caterpillars are still, it often means they are about to molt. Molting means shedding their skin and occurs when the caterpillars grow too big for their old skin. When they are ready to molt, they make a nest out a sticky substance that resembles a spider web. The nest helps protect the caterpillar while he's molting. Painted Lady Caterpillars molt 5 times.

It is hard to describe the appearance of Painted Lady Caterpillars, as it changes a little after each molt. They have a mostly black body with spines (which may be yellow or black in color). Sometimes the caterpillars have white spots on them or tiny yellow stripes.

They also have spiracles on their abdomens. Spiracles are tiny holes which let air in and out of their bodies. This is how they breath.

The picture above is of a thistle plant, a favorite food of Painted Lady Caterpillars!

Here are some photos of Painted Lady Caterpillars.

Painted Lady Caterpillar

Another Painted Lady Caterpillar

A Painted Lady Caterpillar Molting

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Watch a caterpillar hatch out of a Painted Lady Butterfly egg.

This image is greatly magnified, but is a rare chance to see a caterpillar emerge from an egg!

The next stage in the Painted Lady Butterfly lifecycle is the chrysalis. - A chrysalis is the pupa stage of all butterflies.

About 5 to 10 days after becoming caterpillars, the larva attach themselves underneath a branch or leaf (or to the lid if you are keeping them in a cup). They do this by using a silk thread from their spinneret, a hole just under their mouth. They don't spin a cocoon though! That's what moths do! Caterpillars who will become butterflies change into chrysalises. A few hours after hanging upside down from their tails in a J shape, they molt for the last time and become a chrysalis.

Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar becomes a liquid before reforming itself into a butterfly.

Here is a video of a Painted Lady caterpillar becoming a chrysalis.

A chrysalis changes in appearance shortly before the butterfly emerges.

This photo shows you a chrysalis that is almost ready to split open so a butterfly can emerge.

This photo shows you a chrysalis that is almost ready to split open so a butterfly can emerge.

The chrysalis in this picture is 9 days old. A Painted Lady Butterfly emerged from it about an hour after this photo was taken. If you look carefully, you can see the black and orange butterfly through the chrysalis shell.

About 7 to 10 days after becoming a chrysalis (or a little longer if the temperature is colder), the chrysalis becomes more transparent, showing darker colors inside with a few tiny orange spots. The black and orange showing through the shell are the butterfly's wings! Once the chrysalis begins to look like this, it's almost ready to split open so that the Painted Lady Butterfly can emerge!

Never open a chyrsalis shell for a butterfly. It's important that he do it on his own when he's ready.

Watch a Painted Lady Butterfly emerging from it's chrysalis!

(Click on the image to see a larger image. If you are short on time, you might wish to drag the cursor over to the right a little, to get to where the action starts.)


Butterflies must pump fluid into their wings before they can fly.

This is a newly emerged Painted Lady Butterfly pumping fluid Into her wings. She must do this before she can fly for the first time.

Once the chrysalis splits, the butterfly very quickly comes out! It takes only a minute or two for the butterfly to emerge. The butterfly can't fly yet though. He must first get in a certain position, with his head pointing up, or even slightly backwards, and the tips of his wings pointing down. After getting in this position, he pumps fluid into his wings. As he does this, his abdomen gets a little smaller. Tiny bits of a red fluid usually come out of the butterfly. This is meconium. It's perfectly normal for butterflies to lose some meconium. It's just some leftover fluid that the butterfly doesn't need. You can see a little meconium and read more about in the section of this page entitled: Butterflies don't eat. They drink. (No, they don't drink meconium.)

The butterfly in the picture above dropped down to the floor after emerging from his chrysalis. He immediately walked across the floor of his habitat until he found a branch he could pull up on. He sat in the position you see him in now for a little over two hours, while pumping fluid into his wings and resting. Then he began to crawl along the branch a little.


This photograph, of another butterfly, was taken only a few moments after the butterfly emerged. This butterfly held on to the cup lid, in basically the same position as the other butterfly (with the tips of his wings pointing down) for a couple of hours. He too was pumping fluid into his wings and resting. You can see his empty chrysalis shell beside him, still attached to the cup lid.

A Camouflaged Painted Lady Butterfly - Notice how well the butterfly's wings blend in with the branch in front of him!


When the wings of a Painted Lady Butterfly are closed,he is very well camouflaged against a tree branch.

The picture above was taken about 2 and a half hours after the butterfly emerged from his chrysalis. This is the same butterfly you can see hanging from a tree branch in a previous section.

Butterflies: From Egg, To Larva, To Pupa, To Adult! - Great photos of butterflies in different stages of their life cycle!

  • Butterfly School: Metamorphasis
    This website includes information and pictures about the metamorphosis that butterflies go through during their life cycle. Included are pictures of the egg and caterpillars in different stages.

Butterflies are solar-powered! - They need the sun in order to fly!


A Painted Lady Butterfly About Three Hours After Emerging

Did you know butterflies need the sun in order to fly? We didn't, until our butterflies emerged from their chrysalises. They seemed to be just sitting around even after their two and a half hour session of filling their wings with fluids was over. In fact, by late afternoon, they continued to just sit or walk around their habitat. Sometimes they opened their wings, but they kept them closed most of this time.

A quick internet search lead me to the information that butterflies need sunlight to fly. Our butterfly habitat had been in the kitchen, which was well lit with a sliding glass door and overhead electric lights, but that wasn't enough for the butterflies. They needed direct sunlight touching and warming their wings. I decided to move their habitat onto the floor directly in front of our sliding glass door. There was a nice patch of sunlight flooding in at that location! As their habitat entered into the sunlight, before I even placed it all the way on the floor, the butterflies seemed to "wake up!" They suddenly started fanning their wings, enjoying the sun! It was like magic! A few minutes later, they began to fly for the first time!!

When dusk came, the butterflies closed their wings until sunlight fell on them again in the morning. When morning came, I knew it would be late afternoon before direct sunlight would once again pour into our sliding glass door, so I took the butterfly habitat outside to the front yard for about 10 minutes, and again the butterflies took to the air, flying all around the aquarium.

Further confirmation of butterflies need for sunlight came the day we decided to release the butterflies into our back yard. All the neighborhood children were gathered to watch, the camera was ready, the large screen lid of the habitat was opened...and the butterflies just sat there. (Actually, the butterflies happened to be hanging onto the screen lid at this particular time, so when we took the lid off, we turned it upside down, so that the butterflies were now sitting on top of their habitat, with no walls or roof to stop their flight). Were the butterflies so fond of us they didn't want to leave? No, it was just late in the afternoon on a cloudy day, and even though it wasn't dark out, there wasn't enough direct sunlight to enable them to fly! No problem! We just put the lid back on and took them back inside. The next time we tried in the morning, on a bright sunshiny day! This time we had success, and the butterflies had their freedom!

How does it work? Research is showing that some of the scales on a butterflies wings collect the heat from sunlight. If you do a search online, you'll likely find several websites which talk about how humans are learning more about solar power from butterflies.

Here are a couple:

Butterfly Wings Have Solar Cells Inside: Inspiration for Scientists

Solar Energy from Butterfly Wings?

Butterflies don't eat. They drink. - In the wild, butterflies drink nectar from flowers. They will also sip juice from an orange!


Butterflies don't really eat anything. They do drink though. They have a very long tongue called a proboscis. It rolls up, much like a fruit roll-up, in their mouths, and can stretch out like a long arm or antennae when they pull it out of their mouths. In the wild, butterflies drink nectar from flowers. This helps the flowers because as they do so, they get little bits of pollen on them, which they then transfer to another flower, thus pollinating it and allowing it to grow seeds. Here's a website which talks more about pollination by butterflies: Pretty Pollinators: The Butterflies.

If you are raising some butterflies, you can add fresh flowers to their habitat. They also enjoy cut oranges, watermelon and apple pieces. In addition, you can prepare a solution of sugar water (3 teaspoons of sugar water to 1 cup of water.) and sprinkle or dip flowers or 2 inch large balls of wadded up tissue into the sugar water. Keep the extra solution in the refrigerator for later use.

Our butterflies enjoyed the fresh flowers with sugar water on them, as well as the orange slices. We didn't try the balls of tissue or the other types of fruit.

The light red color that you see on the paper towel near the butterfly is a little bit of meconium (the extra fluid that butterflies get rid of). One of our butterflies continued to lose meconium off and on for the first day. It was only very tiny drops here and there. The other lost all of his right at the beginning. Yet both butterflies were healthy and were able to fly away when we released them.

This colorful Painted Lady Butterfly is using his very long proboscis (tongue) to drink from a flower.

This colorful Painted Lady Butterfly is using his very long proboscis (tongue) to drink from a flower.

This colorful Painted Lady Butterfly is using his very long proboscis (tongue) to drink from a flower.

It's time to let our Painted Lady Butterflies fly free!


Here's the aquarium which served as a habitat for our Painted Lady Butterflies.

Our caterpillars stayed in cups with lids (1 caterpillar to cup) until they became chrysalises. The cups had all the food that the growing caterpillars would need, so we had to do was watch them grow!

Once they become chrysalises, it's recommended that you leave them in the cup for about 24 hours or so, to allow the chrysalis to harden. Then very carefully remove the lid, taking care not to knock the chrysalis off! Some companies provide paper inside the lid and the caterpillars attach to the paper. Others simply allow the caterpillar to attach directly to the lid.

Next tape or safety pin the lid or paper into the butterfly habitat. It should be about 4 to 8 inches off the floor of the habitat. This allows the butterfly plenty of room to come out of his chrysalis when the time is right, but keeps him from dropping too far if he falls.

Because we were using a glass aquarium with a screen lid, we decided to add some tree branches to our aquarium and tape the lids with the chrysalises attached onto those branches. That worked well for us. We attached the lids at a spot on the branch that was the suggested 4 to 8 inches off the floor.

9 days after our caterpillars became chrysalises, they emerged as butterflies. Their metamorphosis was complete! A few days later, we brought the aquarium outside, sat it near some flowers, and released our two Painted Lady Butterflies into our yard.

Butterflies don't always fly away immediately. - Sometimes they linger, perhaps warming their wings in the sun a little more.


Neither of our butterflies flew away immediately. When they did fly away, one flew quickly out of sight. There is a vacant lot beside us, and he flew off in that direction, to enjoy the trees and flowers growing there I suppose. The other flew only a few short feet onto the ground. Here's a picture of him.