Monarch Life Cycle - Monarch Butterfly USA
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Monarch Life Cycle


“How long does a monarch live?” and “Why do monarchs migrate south?”

The answers to these two questions go hand-in-hand. Children ask them all the time. Most monarchs live from two to six weeks as an adult butterfly, but the Monarch’s migration is the KEY to its yearly life cycle.

The total time frame for one butterfly’s life cycle (one generation) is about 6-8 weeks…egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. It grows inside the egg for about 4 days. It then munches milkweed and grows as a monarch caterpillar (larvae) for about 2 more weeks. The caterpillar’s life inside the chrysalis (pupa) lasts about 10 days and its wonderful life as an adult butterfly lasts from 2 – 6 weeks.

Learn more from the FAQ page of the MONARCH WATCH Reading Room.

January/February – Monarchs huddle closely in the Oyamel trees of their sanctuary in Mexico and in areas along the southern California coastline. These special monarchs live about 4-5 months through the cold, long winter.

March/April – They become more active, as warm Spring air soothes their wings and bodies. They begin searching for a mate. Some may begin a northern journey. They find a mate and the eggs are laid. Then is unique, 5th generation dies … the newly hatched eggs begin the first generation, as they eat their way out of eggshells and baby caterpillar’s begin their life as the 1st generation monarchs ~ Egg, Caterpillar, Chrysalis, Adult Butterfly.

May/June – The 2nd generation is born – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult butterfly.

July/August – The 3rd and 4th generation are born – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult butterfly.

September/October – The 5th generation is born – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult butterfly…but THIS generation does NOT mate or die.

November/December – The monarch’s inner compass directs it to MIGRATE south and this generation will live 4-5 months in Mexico or Southern California. They begin awakening and mating in March of the NEXT SPRING, and then lay their eggs! Withered and tattered from their migration and hibernation… they finally die.

The cycles goes on as the new baby caterpillars are born each spring and the cycle continues throughout the year into the next spring. AMAZING MONARCH MIGRATION!

These are the four stages in the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly

“Hello, World!”


“The Munching Caterpillar”

Got Milkweed?


Let Me Out!


Whee! I’m Free!

Egg Stage


Caterpillar (larvae) Stage

  • Munch-a-Bunch of Milkweed
  • My Skin’s Too Tight!
  • Caterpillars at Work
  • The Wiggle-Jiggle Dance (animation)
  • “Sunny”

Chrysalis (pupa) Stage


Adult Butterfly Stage

  • Wings
  • Scale Wing
  • Girls? or Boys?
  • “BERTHA”
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