Chrysalis Vs. Cocoon: Butterfly Life Stages Explained For Kids

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Mar 28, 2023 By Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Originally Published on Jan 27, 2022
Edited by Katherine Cook
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Monarch butterfly chrysalis hanging from plant leaf.

A cocoon and a chrysalis both act as protective layers for the growing organisms inside.

While they can be mistaken to mean the same thing, there are differences between a cocoon and a chrysalis. A chrysalis and a cocoon form during the transition to the last stage of metamorphosis in the life of a moth and a butterfly.

They can be hard layers that keep the transforming creature inside safe from outside entities. Read on to find how a chrysalis and a cocoon are different from each other and the different purposes they serve.

Life Stages Of A Butterfly

Like many other insects, butterflies go through distinct stages in their lives. These life stages are dependent on each other. When there is an issue with one stage, the whole life process of the insect is affected.

The first stage in the life cycle of a butterfly is the egg stage. An adult female butterfly lays eggs on food plants.

The hard shell covering a butterfly egg is known as a chorion. There is a thin coating of wax covering the egg, which prevents the egg from drying even before the larva inside has had the chance to completely develop itself.

The egg also has a small opening on one side where the sperm can enter and fertilize it. While some butterfly species lay single eggs, others lay eggs in batches. Adult female butterflies do not live for long, yet they can lay hundreds of eggs at a time.

The eggs are laid on a particular plant species depending on the different species of butterflies. The eggs are glued to the plant so that they are secured.

The next stage in the life cycle of a butterfly starts with the hatching of the eggs. Butterfly eggs hatch after a few weeks or sometimes after a diapause to reveal larvae. Butterfly larvae are known as caterpillars.

Each larva or caterpillar sheds its skin multiple times during this stage of a butterfly's life. The larva stage of butterflies consists of caterpillars continuously searching for and eating food. Plant leaves form the main part of the diet of a caterpillar.

While most caterpillars are herbivores by nature, some species are omnivores. These caterpillars feed on other insects such as scale insects and ant larvae. Interestingly, some caterpillar species communicate well with ants and form a pact.

While caterpillars collect honeydew secretions from the ants, they, in turn, protect the caterpillars to some degree. The periods in between the molting of skin are known as an instar.

The skin of a caterpillar, which is called the cuticle, is released from the epidermis several times as the caterpillar ages. When the old cuticle is removed, a new cuticle formed by the epidermis takes its place. The end of the caterpillar stage is marked by a caterpillar's transformation into a butterfly pupa.

In this stage, butterfly pupae are formed when the caterpillars molt their skin for one past time. A cocoon sometimes protects a butterfly pupa.

However, this does not often occur among butterflies. The butterfly pupa goes through various changes as the last parts of the caterpillar are transformed. A complete transformation called metamorphosis takes place as the pupa transforms into a butterfly.

The adult stage of the butterfly is also known as the last stage or the reproductive stage. The insect develops larger wings than that which surrounds the pupa during the transformation process. The wings help a butterfly to fly and protect its body.

The primary aim of this stage is to reproduce by laying eggs. The life cycle of a butterfly continues.

How is a cocoon different from a chrysalis?

Many people are unaware that there is a difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon. A chrysalis and a cocoon are taken to mean the same thing. Yet, this is not true.

The primary difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon is that they are part of the life cycles of butterflies and moths, respectively. While there are similarities between butterflies and moths, they are not the same species of insects. Both butterflies and moths go into a final transition to become adults from larvae.

An adult butterfly emerges from a chrysalis. a chrysalis is the hardened body of a pupa during its metamorphosis.

The primary difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon lies here. While a chrysalis is the hardened body of the butterfly pupa, a cocoon is a silk casing formed by the larva form of a moth as preparation for the transition to an adult moth.

The difference can also be seen by where chrysalises and cocoons are placed. Chrysalises are often seen hanging upside down from a branch, leaf, or twig.

On the other hand, the cocoons of moths can be found in crevices, on the ground, or in tree trunks. Both chrysalises and cocoons act as a protective layer around the growing organism inside. Cocoons and chrysalises protect these organisms from any threats in their surroundings, including predators.

A chrysalis is hard and shell-like. It is opaque in color and can also blend in with its environment. It can act as a camouflage to protect itself.

Meanwhile, the cocoons of moths can be hard as well as soft sometimes. Cocoons can further be transparent or opaque depending on the moth species.

Cocoons are formed by the silk wounded around the bodies of the moth larvae. The silk casing hardens overtime to keep the organism developing inside safe. While there is a difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon, they serve similar functions in the process of metamorphosis of these insects.

Cocoon of the Cecropia Moth.

Why are butterflies good for the environment?

Butterflies and moths are both significant indicators for appraising the surrounding environment. A butterfly is not just a pretty insect. It serves various purposes and provides for the ecosystem around it.

Like bees, butterflies are also pollinators. They help to carry and spread pollen gathered while drinking nectar from flowers. They are also known to eat weedy plants, which aid in the growth of other plants. Moreover, they also become food for other animals and play an important role in the ecosystem.

Butterflies are sensitive creatures. They are known to react to the changes happening in their environment. Therefore, many scientists study the butterfly population in terms of an ecosystem barometer to check the status of a specific environment.

The absence of this insect species can indicate an increase in climate change as it can affect the timing and patterns of migration. Researchers study environmental issues and their impacts by observing the behavior, population, and migration patterns of these insects.

Did You Know...

There is something called the Butterfly Effect in the chaos theory, which states that small changes in initial situations can result in larger differences during the later stage of the process.

In other words, if there are changes on a small scale at the start, they can lead to bigger differences on a much larger scale during the later stages of the process.

Another interesting fact about the cocoon of a moth is that it can be helpful for humans in the production of silk fabric. The cocoons that moths create are made up of silk filaments.

Specifically, the cocoon of silk moths is used to make fabric using silk threads.

The traditional process of acquiring silk was considered to be inhumane by many people as it required the killing of the growing moths inside through the process of boiling. However, an alternative way has been developed where the silk is gathered after the moths have escaped their cocoons.

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Written by Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason

Bachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason picture

Adekunle Olanrewaju JasonBachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

With over 3+ years of professional experience, Olanrewaju is a certified SEO Specialist and Content Writer. He holds a BSc in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. Throughout his dynamic career, Olanrewaju has successfully taken on various roles with startups and established organizations. He has served as a Technical Writer, Blogger, SEO Specialist, Social Media Manager, and Digital Marketing Manager. Known for his hardworking nature and insightful approach, Olanrewaju is dedicated to continuous learning and improvement.
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