3 Chrysalises, Cocoons, and Pupae

Chrysalises, cocoons, and pupae!  What are they?  How do I take care of them?

Butterflies and moths go through four stages of life; egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult.

monarch lifecycle

Monarch butterfly life cycle: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult

A butterfly pupa (the stage between the caterpillar and adult) is called either a pupa or a chrysalis. A butterfly doesn’t make a cocoon.

american lady yellow-green pupa

American Lady butterfly chrysalis

Some species of moths make cocoons.

A moth pupa is called a pupa. Some moth caterpillars make cocoons out of silk that comes from their spinnerets. Spinnerets are beneath their heads. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar changes into a pupa.

bombyx mori cut cocoon

Silk moth pupa beside its cut open cocoon

Some moth caterpillars will sew a couple of leaves together and pupate into a pupa inside the leaves.


Polyphemusm moth cocoon

Yet other moth caterpillars will crawl into a mass of leaves on the ground and pupate into a pupa under the leaves.  Yet other moth caterpillars will work their way into the soil and pupate into a pupa underground.


Tersa Sphinx moth pupa (pupates in the soil or in leaf matter)

After your caterpillar becomes a chrysalis, it will emerge in one week to a year or so later, depending on the species.  Most will emerge in the summer in one to two weeks.  Because air conditioners and heaters dry out the air, we encourage misting chrysalises with water every day.  This can make the difference between life and death for some chrysalises.  Even if you have 95% emergence rate, misting can raise the success percentage.


Chrysalises (pupae) of verious species of butterflies

Never keep Monarch or Queen caterpillars in the same container where adult butterflies are emerging.  If the adults have OE, spores will fall to the leaves below and the caterpillars will all get OE.  You can learn more about OE here.

Once they emerge, they do not need food for 24 hours and will do well for 48 hours wihtout food.  If the weather is too bad to release them outdoors, simply mist them lightly the second day.  They’ll need to be fed after the second day and can be fed the first day.  Do not force feed them the first day.  There is a reason that they don’t normally eat the day that they emerge.