The Remarkable Birth of a Monarch Butterfly

A monarch caterpillar in the J position

The emerging chrysalis sheds the larval skin

The early chrysalis is a light green color

A late stage chrysalis becomes clear and the butterfly is visible inside

The emerging butterfly pops the hatch

The new butterfly is all wrinkled

The final product after the wings are pumped up with blood and dry off

One of the most amazing transformations that occurs in nature is the metamorphosis of a monarch caterpillar into a pupal chrysalis and then into an adult butterfly. What makes it even more exceptional is that you can observe this in detail after growing the caterpillars on milkweed plants.

We planted Caribbean giant milkweed in our yard that we purchased from a local nursery. Monarchs soon discovered this food source and laid eggs on the undersides of the leaves. We removed the individual leaves and placed them in a plastic cup with some water in the bottom and watched as the tiny caterpillars hatched and grew at a remarkable rate. This process occurred in our sun room since many caterpillars are eaten by paper wasps and other predators if not protected. Within the space of about three weeks the caterpillars grew large, and one day hung themselves up in a “J” configuration.

Soon the larval skin was shed and the famous green chrysalis emerged which contains the pupal stage. Within about a week the green chrysalis began to darken and soon the bright wings of the developing monarch were visible inside.

Then the side of the chrysalis suddenly popped open and a wrinkled butterfly emerged. It slowly unfurled its wings which were pumped up with blood and dried. After an hour or so the new monarch butterfly exercised its wings and flew away to feed on nectar, find a mate and produce a new generation.

This process of metamorphosis which can be so clearly observed up close and personal is certainly one of the most astonishing natural events that can be observed. You can accomplish this in your own garden and not only learn about this miracle of life, but contribute in a small way to maintenance of the Florida population of monarchs.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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