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What is the difference between pupa, chrysalis and cocoon?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

We recently received a question surrounding the use of the words pupa, chrysalis and cocoon when referring to moth and butterfly life stages. So we thought we would write a useful article addressing this for anyone who wishes to use the correct terminology.

Pupa, chrysalis and cocoon are all a part of many insect’s lifecycles, including moths and butterflies. However, they are not the same things. Here’s what they are in layman’s terms:

Pupa (plural: pupae or pupas)

A pupa is the life stage that moths and butterflies as well as other insects go through; it is the stage of transformation between larva and adult in a process known as metamorphoses, and the pupae of different groups of insects have different names.

In the case of butterflies and moths, that name is chrysalis.

Chrysalis (plural: chrysalises)

A chrysalis is a moth’s or butterfly’s pupa life stage. And so, this is the correct name to use when referring to a moth pupa or butterfly pupa. As mentioned previously, different groups of insects have different names. Tumbler for instance is the name for a mosquito pupa.

Cocoon (plural: cocoons)

A cocoon is simply the protective covering around a pupa or chrysalis. It is a protective silk covering spun by the larvae of an insect for protection as pupae. This isn’t to be confused with a shell, which is the protection some butterflies have instead of a cocoon.


Using the words correctly

So a pupa is an insect in a stage of transformation; pupae is the plural of pupa; the pupa life stage is called the pupal stage; chrysalis is the correct name to use for a moth pupa or a butterfly pupa; chrysalises is the plural of chrysalis; cocoon is the name to use for the outer layer that protects a pupa or chrysalis during metamorphoses.

Now, when referring to insects in this transformative stage, it can be easy to simply refer to them as ‘cocoons’ if they indeed have such a protective coating. However as we’ve discussed previously, this isn’t an entirely accurate description to use. It is not only better but also correct to use pupae if they are insects and you do not known the correct name for them or chrysalises if they are moths or butterflies.

So there we have it, a handy guide about the differences between pupa, chrysalis and cocoon. If you have any more questions like this be sure to let us know!

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