Caterpillars, butterflies, oh my!

An awesome camper brought in a cutting of milkweed last week, and on it were three monarch butterfly caterpillars, busily munching on the leaves. The camper also brought in a chrysalis, which was really cool. I have never seen one before, nor have I ever witnessed the emergence of a butterfly from the chrysalis. The camper was rightfully under the impression that the emergency would take place the next day. It was explained to me that the chrysalis starts off green, changes to an ashy grey, and finally turns white. When I asked when the caterpillars on the milkweed would build their chrysalis, I was told that they have to fatten up first. They would grow to twice their width. I shared this video with hubby and his reaction was so funny. He asked me if that was real time and the answer is yes. Those are very hungry caterpillars!

This was clearly not the first time the camper had witnessed this, as the chrysalis was inside of a “caterpillar castle”.

You can see two older and empty chrysalis on the right. The green-turning-grey chrysalis is the one that was due to emerge over the next 24 hours. I was curious about how the caterpillar builds this structure and quickly learned that it’s done by the caterpillar shedding its skin.

Indeed, the following morning, the butterfly did start to emerge! I missed it as I had a visitor at work, but I caught a little bit. When I ran back in, it had successfully pumped its way out of the chrysalis – amazing!

This is how the emergency would have looked.

I was then told that it would require some time for the wings to dry and all the blood to circulate through the wings before it could take flight. As you can see in the above photo, the wings are still a little crumpled from being folded up in the chrysalis.

When I checked on it 3o minutes later, the wings looked more rigid and the butterfly was so beautiful.

Later that afternoon, the camper released this delicate monarch into the black oak savannah in High Park.

For a great explanation of the butterfly’s metamorphosis, watch this:

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