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The Monarch Butterfly: Change from Caterpillar to Chrysalis

One of the benefits of having a yard full of native plants is that you can easily observe the life histories of many insects including butterflies.

Many years ago, while walking through our yard, I spotted a monarch caterpillar hanging upside down from the leaf of a Fireflag (Thalia geniculata). It had already fastened its cremaster to the leaf and was in a "J" position. This position is characteristic of many butterfly species when almost ready to shed the final skin to reveal the chrysalis.

My wife and I ran inside to get our cameras to capture the event. I took a few quick shots (with a film camera then) and set up my tripod in anticipation of getting some really good images of the "change." I knew it would be quite a while before the monarch shed her skin so I went about other business and checked every fifteen minutes or so to monitor the caterpillar's progress and take a few additional photos. It was about 11:30 a.m. when we first saw the caterpillar and by 2:30 p.m., we could see that the outer skin was getting more wrinkled, a sign that it would not be much longer. This is when I made my critical mistake: rather than sitting there for the next three hours, I thought I could leave and just check the status every five minutes or so. I last checked it at 2:45 p.m. with no visible changes. Fortunately my wife was also checking its progress and by 2:50 p.m., the skin was already beginning to split to reveal the newly transformed chrysalis. She had her digital camera set up as well and began snapping photos while screaming to me, "Get out here! It's changing!" Neither of us actually photographed the moments before the skin split to reveal the green chrysalis.

Watch a video of a monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis in The Monarch Butterfly: Emerging from Its Chrysalis.

Continue reading: How the video was made

The Monarch Butterfly: Emerging from Its Chrysalis

One evening years ago, I saw that a monarch chrysalis was changing color, a sign that the adult butterfly was soon to emerge. I set up my tripod and camera in our garage and waited... and waited... and waited. At midnight, it seemed that the adult butterfly was definitely on the way. I waited some more. Then it was almost 2:00 a.m. in the morning. I would have been willing to stay up all night, but unfortunately I had to teach a class early the next morning and I knew that I just couldn't stay up. Of course, the next morning, there was the beautiful monarch butterfly drying her wings.

Continue reading: See a video of a monarch emerging from its chrysalis