Life Cycle of the Monarch

The life cycle of the Monarch is fascinating to see. It is amazing to us because humans and other mammals look very similar as babies to how we look as adults. Insects are different – they most often change completely (complete metamorphosis) from “baby” to adult. The Monarch butterfly is a great example of these life cycle changes because each stage is so beautiful!


  • The Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on the leaf of the swan plant (a type of milkweed that we have in New Zealand).
  • When the tiny caterpillar hatches out of its egg, it first eats the egg shell, then eats the swan plant leaves.
  • As the caterpillar eats and grows, it sheds its skin (or exoskeleton), replacing it with a new skin that has grown underneath, allowing it to grow bigger.
  • It does this four times before it pupates (forms its chrysalis). Each new stage is called an instar – the hatchling is called a 1st instar, the caterpillar that pupates is a 5th instar caterpillar.
  • The caterpillar hangs upside down in a ‘J’, before shedding its skin to reveal the partly formed chrysalis underneath. After a bit of wriggling, the chrysalis takes shape and hardens, with golden dots along its edge.
  • After a time, the chrysalis begins to darken as the butterfly inside it changes from green to black and orange.
  • The chrysalis splits open, and the new butterfly emerges (ecloses) and hangs its wings to expand and dry them.
  • Once its wings are dry, the butterfly flies off to find nectar to eat (or drink) from flowers.
  • The butterfly will then find a mate, so the female can lay eggs and start the cycle again.


Life Cycle of the Monarch
Life Cycle of the Monarch

A more printer-friendly version of the Life Cycle diagram is coming soon.

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