A monarch emerges!

It’s THAT time of year. The leaves are turning, the days are getting shorter, and the monarch butterflies are emerging and migrating south for the winter. Other caterpillars become butterflies, too, but monarchs are special – they are the only insect that migrates like birds or whales! Wow!

We’ve been lucky to have several dozen monarch caterpillars on our milkweeds this year, and one lonely cat found its way to our garden fence to make its chrysalis a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, it was visible from the back deck and easy to check on each day. Yesterday, as I did my evening rounds, I noticed that the chrysalis had begun to darken. I sat and watched it awhile but didn’t see much change by dark, so I figured it would have to wait until morning to emerge.

By this morning it had turned almost completely black – at least from a distance, so I went outside and sat on a bucket by the fence – watching, waiting, and wondering at the marvel I was about to witness. I don’t know why I felt compelled to wait and watch, but I did. As I sat and watched and waited, I was reminded of a quote Mr. EndlessSeeker told me about from one of Ernest Hemingway’s books (The Sun Also Rises): “How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Indeed, that was the case for this caterpillar-to-butterfly event. The caterpillars hatch from tiny eggs and then begin munching on milkweed, going through several instar stages before forming a chrysalis. This chrysalis formed about two weeks ago and has been hanging quietly in its bright green and gold glory. The transformation to a dark chrysalis with a hint of wing color took less than 24 hours, and it’s final emergence from the time the chrysalis split open to butterfly appearing was about 20 seconds (as you will see in the video below). Gradually and then suddenly, for sure.

Here is a sequence of the transformation:

The chrysalis yesterday, October 14, 2021 at 6:30 PM

And then this morning….

Notice the swollen abdomen when it first emerges. After about 20 minutes of hanging onto the chrysalis shell and pumping up its wings, the butterfly eliminated what was left of the fluids in its abdomen – rusty, then pink, then clear.
Wings nearly fully formed.

The butterfly hung there for another two hours, resting from her amazing transformation, then flew off into the wilds – on her way to Mexico perhaps. I wished her well and hope that she will be one of the lucky ones to make the journey successfully. As for me, I am forever transformed as well, having witnessed this magical moment. Have you watched a butterfly emerge before? What was your experience like?

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