Life Cycle Of A Butterfly:
Unit Study, Pictures And Craft Activities

Our Butterfly Unit Study with a special life cycle of a butterfly free printable is great for inspiring the kids with fascinating facts.

This page is a celebration of butterflies! 

butterfly face painting

You'll find:

  • A free printable butterfly life cycle sheet.
  • How to raise your own caterpillars from the wild.
  • Fascinating facts about butterflies.
  • Butterfly craft ideas, such as butterfly paper streamers.
  • Free Monarch butterfly posters and teaching downloads.
  • Free butterfly face painting instructions .
  • High school activities to build your interest in butterflies.

"Outstanding! My students and I wanted to drop you a line and tell you that your web page is awesome." ~ Dahlia

Butterfly Unit Study

PS The butterfly in this picture is the rare Large Blue, taken by us on a homeschool butterfly expedition.

Love this page? Please Pin this to your Favorite Board

pinterest button

Butterfly Life Cycle

The stages in the life cycle of a butterfly are so amazing they are an ideal way to start off a joy in nature which can last a lifetime. They are also the perfect way to teach science.

Summary Of Butterfly Stages:

Stage One: Egg

butterfly egg

Butterfly Egg

(with thanks to the University of Queensland)

  • The adult butterfly lays 10-100 eggs on the underside of leaves.
  • The egg is a tiny object, little larger than a pinhead.
  • As you can see from this photo, the eggshells of most butterflies have intricate patterns when seen close up, with radiating ribs, spines and protrusions and a small depression (the 'micropyle') through which air penetrates to the embryo.

Stage Two: Caterpillar

Monarch butterfly caterpillar

Monarch butterfly caterpillar

  • The egg hatches into a caterpillar or larva.
  • Most caterpillars have 12 eyes. They are a very simple structure and can only sense light and dark.
  • Many caterpillars eat 27,000 times their own body weight before they turn into a chrysalis.
  • Once a caterpillar hatches from the egg it will increase its size 30,000 times before it is ready for the next stage in the life cycle of a butterfly: the chrysalis.

Stage Three: Chrysalis



  • The larva changes into a chrysalis or pupa.
  • In the chrysalis stage of the life cycle of a butterfly, the caterpillar's body is turned to a liquid and the adult's body starts to form.
  • Nearly all chrysalises stay hidden from predators by being camouflaged. Disguises range from dead, dew-spangled leaves (fritillaries) to bird-droppings (black hairstreak).
  • Some chrysalises make small sounds to frighten predators away.

Stage Four: Adult

Adult butterfly
  • When the adult's body is fully formed inside the chrysalis, the adult or imago stage in the life cycle is reached and the butterfly emerges.
  • As you can see from the pictures, most species are beautifully colored. The colors you see are not caused by pigmentation but by the light bending through the scales, rather like when light bends through a water droplet.
  • Adults spend their time in courtship, mating and egg-laying.
  • There are about 20,000 species of butterflies.

You can get our free printable homeschool life cycle of a butterfly stages sheet at the bottom of this page.

Butterfly Life Cycle Kit

The best way to make the life cycle of a butterfly come alive is to see it with your own eyes. We've had such fun in our homeschool with this butterfly kit. 

insect lore butterfly kit
check price on Amazon

"You've written a beautiful page here Sonya. We have done one of the kits a time or two in the past and had fantastic results!"

~ Beth, Courageous Homeschooling Facebook support group

My daughter named every caterpillar that hatched from our homeschool eggs. I'm afraid Toto (which means 'little' in Swahili) didn't make it - but the rest did.

common blue butterfly

And to show how much joy your children will get from raising butterflies, just take a look at Natascha's daughter's face:

child with butterfly

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly educational resources

The World Wildlife Fund has free downloads to help you aimed at grades 3-5 (ages 8-11) with:

  • Fun Monarch butterfly facts and free posters
  • Find out about the great Monarch migration by plotting their journey on a map
  • What kids can do to help
free download

Raising Caterpillars From The Wild

We have done this successfully but I am not entirely recommending it.

  • Firstly, you have to make sure you know exactly which plant the caterpillars are eating and make sure you can easily get enough fresh supplies.
  • Secondly, and more importantly as far as the children are concerned, sadly part of the butterfly life cycle is that they get predated a lot.  That means you may well find that instead of your caterpillar hatching into a butterfly out pops a wasp from the dead body.

It can be a bit traumatic.  So I really recommend a kit as being far more reliable.

hatch a butterfly from the wild

If you do want to hatch a butterfly from wild caterpillars:

  • Prepare a home for them.  We used an old aquarium; you can use a plastic jar with holes punched in the lid.  Make sure there is ventilation and put soil, sticks and leaves in.
  • Go caterpillar hunting.
  • Try to identify the ones you find in a good book (or on the internet) so you can read up about their needs.
  • Don't pick the caterpillar up directly - they are easily damaged. Pick the leaf and not the caterpillar.
  • Only gather about 5 - leave the rest alone.
  • Take some damp tissues to wrap round their food plant and gather some stems to take home so you have fresh food.
  • Put your caterpillars in their home.  They need water daily. You can provide that by washing the leaves of some of the food plant in water before you put them in.  Be careful not to add too much or too little.
  • Don't put your butterfly home in the sun. 
  • Put fresh leaves of the food plant in daily and clean up droppings.
Butterfly pictures of the large blue and marbled white butterflies.

When it comes to time to pupate, you need to use you field guide to see what works best for them - twigs, the soil, or somewhere to hang. The environment should be slightly moist.

When they hatch - enjoy and release back where you found them.  What a wonderful way to observe the life cycle of a butterfly.

Butterfly Craft

There are lots of butterfly craft activities for kids to enjoy.

butterfly crafts

You'll see we've made fun butterfly streamers in our page on summer kids crafts.

And come and paint pebbles with us - butterflies make the perfect subjects to turn stones into beautiful objects.  Kids really enjoy painting butterflies and if you give them a few pictures to go on you get lovely results.

butterfly pebble

Lots more fun ideas for kids on Pinterest:

Facts About Butterflies

By now, I think you can tell we've enjoyed ourselves in our homeschool by finding out the facts that make these insects fascinating! Here are a few more of our favorite butterfly facts:


Amazing Fact One

Monarch butterflies have been spotted as high as 1,000 feet in the air.


Amazing Fact Two

The largest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing, with a wingspan up to 1 foot (30cm) wide. It lives in the rainforest of New Guinea and you could use it to tempt your kids to join our rainforest kids crafts project.


Amazing Fact Three

Butterflies pollinate more plants than any other insect except bees.

Preschool Butterfly Life Cycle Lesson

Why not try out the life cycle of a butterfly with your kids yourself?

brown argus

You could start by reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar together.

  1. Egg - scrunch yourself into a ball as tight as you can get
  2. Caterpillar - open yourself up, lie flat on the floor and wriggle around
  3. Chrysalis - close your eyes, stay as still and straight as you can for as long as you can!
  4. Butterfly - open your eyes and gently wave your arms up and down as you stretch your wings. Do your best to fly as you dash round the room.

Butterfly Resources

There are some great websites where you can find out more about the life cycle of a butterfly and many other facts too.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • The US Butterflies and Moths Organisation is a great site for facts and pictures about the butterfly life cycle. You can use it to identify any butterfly you find and submit your pictures.

Kerri, who wants to go to school to be a lepidopterist, has suggested this page which has tons of links to butterfly resources on the web.

Thank you Kerri and good luck; you have picked a great career and will be fabulous at it.

Painted lady butterfly

Here's a butterfly raised at home in the hands of my friend's daughter Samira.

High School Activities

Learning about the life cycle of a butterfly is something you can enjoy right from when your kids are tiny - but you don't need to stop there. You'll find high school activities which help deepen your knowledge of the life cycle of these fascinating insects.

In our homeschool high school, we even plan our holidays around where the best butterfly sites are located!

butterfly life cycle high school activities

As you can see, there are so many interesting facts to learn about these amazing insects.

You can set up a homeschool butterfly project which includes lots of fun activities:

Monarch Migration

  • Join the fantastic Monarch Watch organisation, make a Monarch Waystation and help provide data for the Monarch tagging program.
  • Take pictures of butterflies. Here's another of Catherine's homeschool pictures:

Large Skipper

Identify the butterflies you see. There are some great guides to help with facts and pictures.

  • Look for butterfly eggs and caterpillars
  • Download maps and mark the distribution of each butterfly
  • The life cycle of a butterfly depends on the species. When you identify yours, you can fill in an annual chart showing the different stages throughout the year

Free Printable Life Cycle Of A Butterfly

butterfly life cycle pdf

Here is our homeschool free printable printable butterfly life cycle sheet. The blue butterfly picture for the adult stage in the cycle is another of Catherine's homeschool pictures.

Butterfly Face Painting

butterfly face painting

Why not have a go at butterfly face painting as part of your butterflies project?

Simone from my my Courageous Homeschooling Facebook support group has very kindly shared this picture of her two daughters to tempt you.

It's also good to know you can make your own face paint.

How To Make Face Paint

N.B. This homemade face paint recipe looks fun - it should be safe for most children, but it's always good to test first to check your child isn't allergic.


  • Mix baby lotion, cornstarch (cornflour) and water together in a bowl.  You can make the face paint thicker by adding more cornstarch, thinner by adding water.
  • Put small amounts of your mixture in little pots - baby food jars or the compartments in an egg carton.
  • Add drops of food color to each compartment so you get different colors of face paint.

Paint your butterfly!

Free Butterfly Face Painting Instructions

The life cycle of a butterfly is so fascinating that it opens up all sorts of fun homeschool activities and craft ideas for you to try.

butterflies for kids
Butterflies for kids

More Pages To Enjoy...

Click on the picture to go to the page.

rainforest animal resource pack
Ocean Unit Study

blue arrow
free homeschool newsletter

FREE Homeschool Newsletter

"Just had a look through your monthly newsletter focusing on math. Thanks so much for all the links and ideas. It's brilliant!" ~ Diana      

"Hi....I totally love all your posts and enjoy reading them....the kids love the activities and enjoy them through and through." ~ Bianka

18,000 Facebook Fans

Enjoy This Page? Please Share It....

Sonya Chappell

Free Newsletter

Homeschool activities monthly newsletter

Homeschool Secrets of Success

Homeschool Secrets of Success
Amazon review
Learn more

"With the education system failing so many brilliant children it's great to be able to have resources like your website for inspiration, ideas and just a sense of belonging. What you are doing for your children is priceless." ~ Natalija

"I really appreciate your time and effort that goes into your posts... It's nice to see that you are a 2nd generation homeschooler." ~ Teresa

"Your newsletters & book have helped us through our journey.  For that I can only thank you.
Please, please, please keep it up, people like you make our home school life so much easier." ~ Kelly

"I have joined paid sites that were not even one percent as great as this site. Really amazing what you are doing and so so helpful thanks so much!" ~ Eli