If All Butterfly Eggs Lived, What Would Happen?
In general, one adult butterfly or moth can lay 400 eggs, more or less. Only 1 or 2 out of 100 butterfly eggs live to become adult butterflies. From egg through chrysalis, there are many causes of butterfly deaths. These deaths are caused by disease, predators, parasitoids, weather, insecticides, herbicides, and more.
in the wild
dead from desease
A chalcid wasp
lays eggs in
soft butterfly pupa
This low survival rate upsets many butterfly gardeners and enthusaists and we do our best to help butterflies fight these odds and increase butterfly populations. So ... what would happen if a fertile female adult butterfly did not die before she laid 400 eggs and if all 400 eggs survived to become adults?
Let's suppose you found 6 butterflies of your favorite species flying in your yard. Let's also suppose 3 were male and 3 were female. Let's suppose that the females laid their 400 eggs and all 400 eggs survived to become adult butterflies, half female and half male. Last, let's suppose each butterfly continued the cycle of life generation after generation.
3 female butterflies x 400 eggs each = 1,200 butterflies (half male, half female).
600 female butterflies x 400 eggs each = 240,000 butterflies (half male, half female).
120,000 female butterflies x 400 eggs each = 48,000,000 butterflies (half male, half female).
Impossible! Why is it impossible?
Host plants are essential for caterpillars. This huge number of caterpillars would decimate all the particular host plants for that species within one to two generations. Within a short while, that species of butterflies would become extinct. Caterpillars would starve and could not become adults.
Some species would go more generations than others but could not go many generations at those explosive rates. Duskywings that eat oak trees, Viceroys that eat willow, Red-Spotted Purples that eat willow and black cherry, and others who eat plants that are large and cover much of the landscape would have more leaves, but not enough to continue reproducing at such a rate.
Remember, this is ONE species starting with THREE female butterflies. Estimates of the number of species of butterflies in the world range from 15 - 30 thousand. Multiply the number above by the number of species in the world ... WOW ... quite unimaginable, isn't it?
Let's go three more generations:
24,000,000 female butterflies x 400 eggs each = 9,600,000,000 butterflies (half male, half female).
4,800,000,000 female butterflies x 400 eggs each = 1,920,000,000,000 butterflies (half male, half female).
960,000,000,000 female butterflies x 400 eggs each = 384,000,000,000,000 butterflies ....
That reads three hundred eighty four TRILLION butterflies within six generations, generated from three female butterflies of just one species.
If it were possible for all of them to live, I wonder how long it would take before we would lose the ability to drive due to butterflies on windshields and clogging up radiators ...