Home / Natural Encounters / The Monarch Butterfly: Emerging from Its Chrysalis

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.

Last year, a friend had more monarch caterpillars than milkweeds to feed them so I took six of her larger caterpillars to feed in a rearing cage at our house. Even with the added protection of a rearing cage, it can be hard to become an adult butterfly. One caterpillar did not successfully make its chrysalis since it failed in the tricky maneuver of attaching its cremaster (a silken pad designed for this moment) to a branch so it fell and died. The remaining five did form chrysalides. However, two of these were previously parasitized by flies when they were caterpillars (including the caterpillar starring in the video of it changing into a chrysalis). So only fifty percent of these caterpillars even became adult butterflies.

Watch a video of a monarch butterfly changing into a chrysalis in The Monarch Butterfly: Change from Caterpillar to Chrysalis.

How the Video Was Made

This two-minute video is a series of over 400 still images that I took with my digital camera. I took a few shots from 9:30 p.m. until midnight when the chrysalis was still barely translucent. The next morning, the chrysalis was very clear, a sign that emergence was near. I snapped dozens of photos from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Depending on what was happening at the time, I manually tripped the shutter after focusing for each shot. I did this manually because, as you see in the video, the monarch was continuously moving about.

After importing the images into Lightroom, our current photo catalogue program, we adjusted the white point based on a gray card used in one of the shots and adjusted the exposure as needed to balance all the shots. These images were then imported into a video program. Most images play for 0.4 second.

Learn More about Butterfly Metamorphosis

In the Company of Wild Butterflies is a 45-minute educational video that was on the American Library Association's Ten Best Environmental Videos of 2006-2007. It has excellent video segments explaining what is actually happening during a butterfly's metamorphosis form caterpillar to adult butterfly. The video can also be rented from Netflix.