How Do Butterflies Mate? Here Is How These Beautiful Insects Reproduce

Abhijeet Modi
Oct 17, 2023 By Abhijeet Modi
Originally Published on Oct 25, 2021
How do butterflies mate? This is an interesting fact you don’t want to miss.

Butterflies and moths are some of the most beautiful creatures on this planet.

There are thousands of species of butterflies in this world. Like everything about them, a butterfly's reproduction process is also fascinating.

All species of butterflies go through four stages of metamorphosis in their life, which are called instars. First, an egg, then the egg hatches, and a caterpillar is born. The caterpillar goes through the pupa or chrysalis stage.

Then the caterpillar's body changes and a new butterfly emerges with wings and antennae. Once they emerge, they will feed on nectar and you might find butterflies fighting or mating. Males usually fight to get a female's attention.

Once the female chooses, the male will be joined by the female's abdomen when mating. Then the female butterfly lays eggs. During this process, she lays hundreds of eggs because many of them fall prey to predators.

Read on to learn more and if you like this article, then also check out how do amphibians breathe? And how do animals hibernate?

How long after butterflies mate do they lay eggs?

There are many species of butterflies in this world and they all vary in their characteristics. Even though they are very unique from each other, all butterflies lay eggs immediately after mating.

Around 18,000 species of butterflies can be found around the world. They evolved from moths and have lived on this earth for millions of years. They are one of the most beautiful and colorful creatures mother Earth has given us.

Even though all butterfly species differ from one another, some things are common between them. All of them can fly with the help of their four wings. They all go through four stages of metamorphosis to become the beautiful winged creatures that we see fluttering around flowers and meadows.

Most butterflies are found mating in the same manner. All of them mate sexually, but we can discuss that in detail later.

In short, when the adult butterflies are mating, they do it within about a week after they emerge from their cocoons.

If you're wondering what a cocoon is, it's a case that caterpillars weave around themselves when they are ready to emerge as an adult female or male butterfly. When they emerge as a butterfly, they are ready to mate and search for a partner.

They will find a partner within about 5-7 days and begin the process of courtship behavior, which can involve fighting between males or male butterflies dancing for the female butterflies.

Once the mating is done, the female butterfly will lay her eggs immediately. Different butterflies live in their own preferred habitats, where the female butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of host trees.

Female butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of their host trees so that when the eggs hatch and turn into caterpillars, they will get enough food directly at the location they were born. A caterpillar needs enough food and energy to grow and for the next part of its life.

The Number Of Eggs Lady Butterflies Lay

Each of the 18,000 butterfly species lays different numbers of eggs. Some may lay only a few dozen eggs, whereas some may lay around a thousand eggs for 2-5 weeks. On average, usually, they lay around 100-300 eggs.

The numbers of eggs, the colors of the tiny, oval eggs, the colors and sizes of the newborn caterpillars of all the butterflies around the world are very different from each other. Here are some details for a few of them: 

Painted lady butterfly: painted lady butterflies mate year-round. A female painted lady butterfly lays about 500 eggs on average. They prefer the soybean plant, so she lays cream-colored eggs on the leaves of soybean plants.

Monarch butterfly: the monarch butterfly's breeding season occurs around March to April. The female monarchs lay about 100-300 eggs on average, but there have been records of a female monarch butterfly laying about 1,000 eggs. These insects lay their white to off-white colored eggs on a milkweed plant.

Red admiral butterfly: the red admiral butterfly's breeding season occurs between April through September. The females lay about 100 green to cream-colored, slightly hairy eggs on leaves of any nettle plant.

Black Swallowtail butterfly: black swallowtail butterfly's breeding season occurs around late April to early June. The female lays around 200-430 tiny, pale yellow eggs. Most of the time these insects choose leaves of the parsley plant to lay their eggs.

Common Mormon butterfly: common Mormon butterflies breed year-round, but it peaks around January to April. The female lays about 100-350 pale yellow eggs on average. The eggs are usually laid on citrus plants, like mandarin orange or key lime trees. The egg will start to turn into a light brown color as it grows.

Cabbage white butterfly: cabbage white or the large white butterflies lay their eggs around May to September. The female lays a few hundred eggs in batches of 10-20. These insects usually lay their yellow eggs on leaves of plants of the mustard family, like horseradish, broccoli, cabbage, and more.

Orange sulfur butterfly: orange sulfur butterflies lay their eggs around the warm weather. Females can lay up to 700 eggs. The egg is usually cream-colored and turns to crimson as it ages. They lay these eggs on the leaves of alfalfa plants.

How do butterflies reproduce sexually?

All butterflies are known to reproduce sexually. However, there are several compelling courtship behaviors, such as choosing a partner, releasing pheromones, and many more about mating butterflies.

All butterflies are found mating within 5-7 days of their emergence as adult butterflies. The males emerge a little earlier and some of them will immediately fly and start patrolling their habitat for females to mate.

Some set up a territory and wait there for females to pass by and impress them. Whereas, some butterfly species, like the small heath butterflies set up a lek.

A lek is a place where a group of males and females of one species gather together to find partners.

Territorial males fight with other males for the attention of a female similar to a group of lek forming with male butterflies. Other than fighting, male butterflies also perform dances as courtship behavior to attract a female partner.

Some male butterflies take an aerobatic flight to attract the females, while some wiggle their antennae while coming face to face to a female in a delicate manner. Sometimes, the female responds with a conspicuous circling flight in kind.

Some butterflies release pheromones to attract partners. Instead of releasing pheromones, male large white butterflies release a chemical that acts as an anti-aphrodisiac. This keeps other male large white butterflies away from an already mated female large white butterfly.

Butterflies don't mate for life, they can be seen mating with multiple partners. Like, the female green-veined white butterfly mates with multiple partners to lay a higher number of eggs.

After this relay of courtship behavior, the male and female come together. The males and females join the tips of their abdomens.

The male then passes the sperm onto the females and the eggs are then fertilized. At times, male butterflies can be seen feeding on scat, wet gravel, tears, sweat, or puddles. They usually collect necessary minerals and salts in this manner.

Then they pass these on to the female for the egg-laying process when they are mating. A male green-veined white butterfly transfers about 15-25% of its body mass to the female.

No parental care can be seen among butterflies. In fact, in most cases, both adult butterflies will die soon after mating; butterflies have a short life anyway.

Within that time, males will mate with a succession of female partners and eventually die, while the female will also die soon after she lays her eggs. Hence, the only parental care done is by the female as she lays her eggs exactly at the place where the caterpillars will get the most food to grow.

The Number Of Times Butterflies Mate Throughout Their Lives

Male butterflies are seen mating throughout their adult lives, but most female butterflies will mate once, lay their eggs, and probably die within the next few weeks. Some female butterflies can be found mating multiple times to lay more eggs.

Most butterflies have a short life, and most of them only live for 2-4 weeks. However, some of them, like the painted lady butterfly, can live up to a year. A butterfly goes through a total of four stages of metamorphosis in its life, which are called instars.

First, a female butterfly lays her eggs on stems or leaves of their preferable trees. A large number of the eggs fall prey to predators, so a lady butterfly will lay a lot of eggs so that at least a few will survive and hatch into caterpillars.

Now, the egg usually takes a few weeks to hatch, the egg may take its time and only hatch once the weather or temperature is warm or suitable enough, in the case of some species.

Once the egg hatches and turns into a caterpillar, for some species, it will eat the egg it came from to get extra nutrition left by its mother and then go on to eat leaves of trees. The main purpose of caterpillars or larvae in this stage is to feed a lot so they can grow.

As the larvae or caterpillars grow, they shed their old skin 4-5 times.

In the next stage, they will weave silk around their body and form a kind of cover around them, which is called chrysalis or pupa. This chrysalis or pupa is then hardened to keep them safe from extreme weather and predators, which is called a cocoon.

Within this cocoon, the caterpillar's body transforms. Depending on the species, it might take weeks or months of overwintering for this stage to end. Once the stage ends, an adult female or male butterfly emerges from the cocoon.

The adult butterfly starts to fly and procreate right away after emerging and that's the entire purpose of this stage. Once they are adults, they don't live for a long time.

They spend their entire adult lives reproducing. Most male butterflies mate many times in their lives.

Whereas most female butterflies mate once, then they lay eggs and most of them die soon after. Some females, like the female green veined white butterflies, mate many times with several partners to lay more eggs.

Adult butterflies primarily feed on nectar from flowers and liquid from ripe or rotten fruits. They have long straw-like mouthparts which are called proboscis and they are only able to draw liquids, like nectar from various places as their food.

Breeding Butterflies In Captivity

Breeding butterflies can be hard. In addition, remember that they lay hundreds of eggs, so you have to be prepared to take care of that many caterpillars.

To breed butterflies of a specific species, you have to know how the males and females of the species look and recognize the sex of the adults. Then keep them in a large enough container, where they should have enough space, food, and a warm temperature.

Only after the environment is suitable, will they mate. When they are mating, they will be joined by their abdomens, facing away from each other. Don't disturb them in any way as the sperm is transferred to the females during this time.

Once they have mated, the female butterfly will start to lay her eggs immediately, so keep parts of their preferred trees in the container. Once the eggs are laid, wait for about 3-8 hours for them to dry and then take them away to another container.

If you've kept part of the trees in the container, you will see the eggs on the leaves of the host plants, then you can take the leaves and move them.

Keep enough flow of air in the container, the air will keep everything dry and away from building mold.

Try to bring different butterflies for the new ones to mate. If the sibling butterflies start to mate amongst themselves, you will only get one or two generations of butterflies, after that, they will become small and weak.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how do butterflies mate? Then why not take a look at how do birds find worms, or how do dolphins sleep facts pages?

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Written by Abhijeet Modi

Master of Computer Science

Abhijeet Modi picture

Abhijeet ModiMaster of Computer Science

An experienced and innovative entrepreneur and creative writer, Abhijeet holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Computer Application from Birla Institute of Technology, Jaipur. He co-founded an e-commerce website while developing his skills in content writing, making him an expert in creating blog posts, website content, product descriptions, landing pages, and editing articles. Passionate about pushing his limits, Abhijeet brings both technical expertise and creative flair to his work.

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