Over the past few weeks my family has adopted several monarch caterpillars we found on the milkweed in our yard. In the first part of this story, I shared how those caterpillars grew and formed their chrysalises. Now I can show the transformation from chrysalis to butterfly.
A few hours after the caterpillar has made its chrysalis, it is firm enough to be relocated. I tied a thread around the chrysalis stem and hung the chrysalises from a twig away from milkweed leaves other caterpillars were still feeding on.
When the caterpillar has been in its chrysalis for about a week, the opaque blue-green shell will become transparent, showing the dark butterfly goodness inside.
Then the morning after the chrysalis has turned dark, the butterfly hatches. This happens very quickly, so it’s easy to miss. When the butterfly first emerges, its body is swollen and its wings appear very small.
Gradually, over a period of a few hours, the butterfly pumps fluid from its body into its wings, gradually stretching and stiffening them.
Once the butterfly has fully stretched its wings, it slowly opens and closes them as it prepares to fly. Even after the wings have fully expanded and look “normal” it still seems to take an hour or more before the butterfly actually takes to the air.
Taking the twig and butterfly outside at this point ensures that when the monarch is ready to fly away it can do that without getting lost in my house. With one of this year’s butterflies I stepped out to run an errand and returned to find the butterfly clinging to my wooden blinds.
Fortunately, it was still a tentative enough flier, that the butterfly contentedly climbed onto my finger and rode it outside. There it fluttered first to my shoulder and then to a big tree across the street.
All together, it took a little over two weeks to raise each tiny caterpillar into a mature butterfly. We spent longer than that with the caterpillars, however, because when we collected a new milkweed stalk to feed the larger caterpillars, a new caterpillar egg or two was inevitably hitching a ride.
It’s hard to tell who liked our temporary pets more: Ms. Bungalow or our kids. A number of my butterfly photos are credit to my wife’s near-obsessive monitoring of the caterpillars and chrysalises. Whenever something dramatic was happening with the monarchs, Ms. Bungalow’s urgent call for me to get the camera was sure to follow. Thanks, sweetie!
But for our whole family, raising monarchs was fun and educational. More than that, it was a rare instance when having a few weeds in the garden brought a lot of beauty to our home.