Four years ago I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador at a butterfly exhibit. The very first day that I arrived where the butterfly house was located, a dazzling Blue Morph greeted me and flashed its wings as it flew by. I knew then that I wanted to raise this magnificent butterfly for the exhibit.
Morpho females use a variety of host plants and will lay a single egg on the underside of a leaf. Upon hatching, the first instar larva devours its empty shell, which provides an initial source of carbohydrates and proteins before it begins to feed on the host plant.
I found the various stages of the caterpillar to be fascinating. As caterpillars grow, they get to a point where they must shed their skin before they can continue to develop. The larva has five stages called instars. The larva of the Blue Morpho is quite distinct in each stage.
The caterpillars have unique ways to defend themselves from predators. Coloration at each stage provides them with camouflage. The older larvae have a gland located on their thorax that emits a strong order when threatened, which some describe as rancid butter. The hairs on their body also can irritate predators once touched.
The entire caterpillar stage lasts roughly eight weeks before forming the chrysalis. Immediately before pupation, the caterpillar enters a pre-pupal stage and the entire body color changes to light green lasting approximately three days.
The larva will attach itself to a twig or large leaf, and will rest for about 36-48 hours while the chrysalis develops beneath the larval skin. The larval skin splits along sutures on its back to reveal the chrysalis. The pupal stage lasts approximately two weeks before the butterfly is ready to emerge, but in the wild can last to several months in order to time their emergence with the arrival of seasonal rains.
Once hatched, an adult Morpho lives for about two to three weeks. The entire life cycle of the Morpho butterfly from egg to death is approximately 115 days, or just under four months.