Monday, September 28, 2015

The King In My Kitchen: Monarch Metamorphosis

The emerald chrysalis had hung from its stick in a humble pickle jar on my counter for ten days.  Immobile and unchanging from the outside, lots of activity was going on inside, hidden from view. We went out of town and returned and didn't miss a thing.


9:20 A.M. Saturday - are those wings?
Saturday morning I took a few photos as a rough outline of wings became visible. The chrysalis, still green, looked like it was thinning and becoming less opaque. 

I learned a new word for the stem: cremaster (side note: a second new word is frass…caterpillar poop). It was firmly stuck into its ball of white silk. The bottom of the chrysalis, where the caterpillar's head had been, bulged toward the front, with two gold spots perched on top like eyes. The gold and black band at the chrysalis's widest point still glowed like a miniature string of lights.



After lunch there was just the slightest darkening within the chrysalis. It was subtle, almost a smokiness under the green.
12:50 P.M. Saturday - kinda shadowy in there.

We went to the movies and shopped at the mall, came home, had dinner, cleaned up. Though the chrysalis was in plain sight on the counter, it's surprising how much more observant I was with a camera in hand. The sooty look inside had resolved into the black of the butterfly's wings. The orange was clearly visible through the milky skin.


8:50 P.M. - fragile - handle with care!



Changes had been happening slowly all day. I was afraid I'm miss something and only waited 45 minutes to take another photo. Was it darker or was it just a different angle in the light? It was hard to be sure! What do you think?


9:35 P.M. Saturday

I woke just after midnight and couldn't sleep - what was I missing downstairs? Finally I got up to check. I really had no idea how fast events would happen now. If I missed the hatching while sleeping I'd be so disappointed. Reassuringly, the chrysalis was positively darker but still a milky green. 


12:30 A.M. Sunday

 I got a few hours of sleep but woke with that wide-awake feeling you have that you've forgotten something important. Too early to get up, but might as well make coffee and check on how the night had gone for the monarch. He'd been busy. The chrysalis was like polished ebony with just a hint of cloudiness at the top and front. The wings were so clearly visible, they seemed about to push through the chrysalis at any moment. 


5:40 A.M. Sunday - just when you thought it couldn't get any prettier...





Two hours later the skin of the chrysalis seemed completely transparent. The gold belt around the front had dimmed to a brassy color. The chrysalis quivered on its cremaster a few times every minute. Now I really hovered in the kitchen, much to my husband's amusement. The minutes ticked by, but I was afraid to leave the room. According to internet sources, once the hatching began it would be over in seconds.


7:50 A.M. - not much longer now!



Finally, at 9:46 A.M. Sunday, a split appeared just over the bump I'd noticed near the bottom hours earlier. Crumpled, short, thick wings followed a doughy-looking abdomen out of the clear chrysalis!
9:46 A.M. Sunday - here we go!



Now, I knew that butterflies had to dry their wings before they could fly, and my research said it would take about 2 hours. That seems like a lot of time to air-dry two tiny wings, doesn't it? 



Well it turns out that the air doesn't dry the wings and abdomen out so they become sleek and slender. The newborn butterfly gets rid of extra water the same way we do - he excretes it. 



On my kitchen island, in this case. Drop by slow drop, for two hours. He stretched his wing muscles periodically and seemed to spend a lot of time cleaning his face. Occasionally he stretched his proboscis too. 





The wings are thinning and stretching!
Finally his wings opened fully a few times. It was time for the big release!




It was a warm but breezy day. I'd chosen a sheltered spot near some lantana bushes that were still blooming. I carried him out, anticipating his exciting first flight, and he…sat there. I shot a photo and finally had to leave him to do an errand. On my return, he was still perched on his stick. He opened his wings twice - two spots show he's a boy!  I ran back into the kitchen for my camera, raced back out - and he was gone. 


Flight 1 for Mexico is leaving…soon!


 Guess his take-off time had arrived. 

I compiled all of my photos and videos into a slideshow set to music. It's on YouTube, but if all goes well it's embedded here: 


24 comments:

  1. OMD, isn't that the most amazing thingy ever!!!! I would luff to see a Monarch Buttie Pillar, Mum saw sum in Tenner Reef but I nefer haf! Oh, this is sooo cool and you caught it all in photos, just pawfect
    Loves and licky kisses
    Princess Leah xxx

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    1. Maybe too many photos, but I just couldn't help myself. Glad you enjoyed them Leah!

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  2. what an amazing creation to watch unfold before your eyes! Very, very cool! Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. I'm so happy you enjoyed it! I almost missed the hatching which is why the first photo of it is fuzzy. Thanks for visiting :)

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    1. Thank you Whitley, thanks for stopping by!

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  4. many thanks for sharing this precious moments with me... that's overwhelming somehow... the miracle of life :o)

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    1. That's my feeling too - it was such a privilege to observe this one tiny creature.

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  5. Oh my word....in all my old than dirt years I have never ever seen anything quite this beautiful.
    Once in a lifetime and I thank you for sharing it with us.
    Hugs Cecilia

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  6. Fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing this! The pictures are amazing. It's amusing that your husband thought it was amusing that you watched the process so closely. I wouldn't have wanted to miss a thing either. Peace!

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    1. Yeah, I thought he was nuts to be missing it! But it's okay, I let him do his thing and he lets me do mine, and lots of other times it's the same thing :)

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  7. The miracle of nature is breathtaking. What a wonderful group of photos documenting your butterfly. ☺

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    1. Thank you, that makes all the time spent worthwhile.

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  8. This is beyond cool and how lucky you were to be able to document this! Thank you for sharing with us, it is AMAZING!!! Gorgeous too!
    DakotasDen

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    1. Thank you Caren! It really makes me happy that so many people have enjoyed watching this one life unfold.

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  9. That was incredible, almost unbelievable... to see that transformation right before our eyes. Thank you SO much for documenting it and sharing it with all of us. I hope your Monarch is well on his way to Mexico now.

    You've educated a lot of people with this. I'm going to try again to grow milkweed next year so I can see Monarchs too!

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! You share so many amazing moments and do it so well, it means a lot. Good luck with your milkweeds next year! Maybe you just need a different variety, or maybe get plants that have already been started by a grower. I have two kinds but the monarchs ignored the small orange ones near the lantana where I released the butterfly. They all go to the swamp milkweed (pink flowers).

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  10. So amazing! After watching the video I'm so glad to read your comments.

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    1. Thank you Sue. Yes this little guy has somehow struck people's heartstrings.

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  11. this has got to be one of the most amazing things i've ever seen. thank you SO much for sharing it with us.
    wags, bailey unleashed

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  12. Absolutely amazing! Nature is just so cool!

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  13. What a beautiful way to document it. LOVE it and remind me of my teaching days. It's amazing to discover and see a new life. Golden Woofs

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