How Long do Butterflies Live?

Aren’t butterflies wonderful creatures? They flutter about, parading their vivid colors and making our lives better. But how much do you know about butterflies, exactly?

You may know that they go through multiple life stages, including caterpillar and pupa. But do you know how long they stay in the pupa stage? Or how long do caterpillars live for? I’ll give you clear answers to these questions, and more.

If you’re planning to raise butterflies at home, then this article will serve as a mini-guide on how to prolong their lives. I’ll also tell you about the longest-living butterflies in the world so you can make an informed decision. Raising butterflies is a good hobby, especially if you know what you’re doing. With enough skill and knowledge, your butterflies will thrive!

Caterpillar Lifespan

Butterflies go through three different life stages – caterpillar, pupa, and adult butterfly. It’s all a complete process that advances gradually from start to end. When the eggs hatch, caterpillars emerge, and the eating fest begins. Caterpillars have one singular purpose in their short-lived life – to eat as much as possible, and gather plenty of resources for the pupation process.

The length of the caterpillar stage relies on the specific butterfly species in question. For instance, the Painted Lady caterpillar becomes a mature butterfly in four weeks, while others can stay in the larval stage for years, even. The fox moth stays for up to 5 years in the caterpillar stage, while the woolly bear lives as a caterpillar for 14 years. However, the woolly bear is an arctic species of butterflies, so the caterpillar spends most of its time frozen in hibernation.

Adult Butterfly Lifespan

On average, most butterflies will live for up to 2-4 weeks if the conditions are good. A butterfly’s lifespan also depends on its species, since some species live longer than others. Some live for a few days, other for a few weeks, while several butterfly species live for a couple of months. If you plan on raising butterflies, don’t expect them to live that long after they become adults.

If you’re sure about raising butterflies, though, I recommend buying a long-lived species like the Monarch butterfly or the Mourning Cloak butterfly. They live the longest out of all butterfly species. But they won’t live past a year either, so you should consider this when building your butterfly farm.

How Long Are Butterflies in Pupa Stage?

Again, it depends on the butterfly species. Some species stay as a pupa for a few weeks, others stay for a couple of months, while certain butterfly species stay as long as two years in their pupa stage. In this life stage, they build a cocoon to protect themselves when going through the transformation. Some species house themselves in a layer of dead cells for added protection.

Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar starts the metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly, forming its organs and taking the desired shape. It’s a transformation room prepared specifically for every caterpillar. This is called the Pupa Stage, and it can either be short or long, depending on the butterfly species.

Do Butterflies Die After Mating?

Like many other insects, butterflies live for one purpose – to reproduce and create the next generation of butterflies. Their entire life is about living long enough to spread their genes. After they do that, they lose their purpose, and so the body starts shutting down. More specifically, after butterfly males have fully depleted their sperm reserves, they’ll only live for six to eight weeks more.

Males will actively look for females not yet out of their pupas to make mating easier. When emerging from their pupas, female butterflies can’t fly for one hour due to damp wings. The male begins the mating process in that time frame when the female can’t escape. During its lifetime, a male butterfly will mate with many females until it has no more sperm.

As for females, they will die shortly after laying all their eggs. Shortly after escaping from their pupas, females are already able to mate, which most often happens immediately.

During its lifetime, a female butterfly will only mate once and lay up to 100 eggs either in clusters or individually. If she mates and lays eggs, she’ll die shortly after laying all the eggs. However, if she never mates, then she’ll live for longer and die of natural causes.

How To Make Your Butterfly Live Longer?

When raising butterflies in captivity, it’s usually easier to keep track of their lifespan and prevent accidents. In nature, 98% of all butterfly caterpillars die for one reason or the other. Accidents may happen with the pupas, as well. Butterflies also have natural predators that can barely wait to eat their next meal. This changes in an artificially controlled environment.

Housing, feeding, and cleaning are essential steps in prolonging your butterflies’ lifespan. From caterpillar to pupa and adult butterfly, you need to keep housing, cleaning, and feeding in mind. Caterpillars need a big and ventilated enclosure with a lid on top. The space should be big enough that, when feeding, the caterpillars shouldn’t touch one another.

To make sure the caterpillars live long enough to turn into pupas, give them the appropriate fresh food. Different species eat different types of leaves, but generally, it’s good to keep them diverse. I recommend offering the leaves in a glass of water to keep them fresh for longer. The moisture level should also be adequately controlled if the caterpillar is to survive.

Hydration is easy – just spray the leaves you feed them with fresh water. The water droplets are a good source of hydration for caterpillars. The same goes for sanitation and cleaning. Caterpillars will leave droppings on the floor, which can attract bacteria and mold. It’s good to remove it often, in which case I recommend placing moist paper tissues at the bottom of the enclosure.

Taking care of pupas is easy. Just hang the chrysalises on a string somewhere at the top of the enclosure, and make sure they can’t fall off. In a few days or weeks, the butterflies will emerge. Depending on the butterfly species, it can even take a few months for the butterflies to emerge, though. As for prolonging the lives of your adult butterflies, one aspect is essential – space.

Butterflies need to fly a lot, and so they need a spacious environment. In fact, don’t even think about minimum enclosure sizes. There is no such thing. Make the enclosure as big as possible if you can afford the space and the associated costs. Also, avoid using plastic and glass when building the living space. Butterflies can’t walk on these materials and may even harm themselves trying to grab onto glass and plastic.

When it comes to feeding, some butterflies don’t ever need to eat. But let’s assume you’re raising a regular, eating butterfly species. In nature, they eat nectar from fresh flowers, so that’s the best food source for them. But if you can’t grow flowers in the butterfly enclosure, there’s an easier option. Just feed them a sugary solution by diluting sugar or honey in water.

If you do all this, your butterflies, regardless of their life stage, will live longer!

Which Butterfly Lives the Most?

By far, the longest-living species of butterfly is the Brimstone Butterfly. It lives for a whopping 13 months which, in butterfly years, is more than ten times the normal. Common butterfly species live for a month at the longest. Generally, fewer than few species go beyond the 1-month lifespan limit. The Monarch butterfly is one such species that can live for nine months straight.

Brimstone butterflies aren’t regular, though. Usually, you’ll find them individually or in pairs of twos in extended gardens, woodlands, or mature hedgerows. If you can get your hands on Brimstone eggs or caterpillars, then I definitely recommend them. They live for up to a year, and they’re pretty as well!


It’s sad to realize that most butterflies you’ve seen in your life died in a month. Something that beautiful and colorful dies too quickly. But you can prolong their lives if you plan on raising them in captivity as I said. One way to make butterfly males or females live longer is to keep them from mating. Though, it’s easier to simply buy a long-living species like the Monarch or the Brimstone butterfly!

Either way, I hope this article answered your questions. If you need additional information, let me know down below!

Butterflies   Updated: September 2, 2021
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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